She kept brushing its pitiful little coat. He was breathing loudly. Just be grateful that I’ve never saw a chimp with a dead baby. I was at my wits’ end. There is little doubt that non-human primates have a strong maternal instinct. I observed an illustration when visiting the Kruger National Park in South Africa. In one instance, a Chacma baboon was seen carrying the remains of a dead baby on its back. This was happening despite the baby’s advanced state of decomposition.
After leaving our overnight stop rather early, we didn’t cross the Sabie River near the well-known Lower Sabie Camp until 8.30 a.m. A group of baboons started to cross the bridge as we were about to cross because they had come out of the woods. One of the baboons seemed to have some loose skin flapping over its haunches as it came toward us. We discovered she was carrying a dead baby on her back right away.
The baboon approached our car at eye level and then moved purposefully ahead with the rest of the group, allowing us to plainly view the bundle of bones and flesh wrapped over her tail. We had the good fortune to be able to watch the regiment cross the bridge. Along the way, there were stops to look for food, quick grooming sessions, and even one couple’s hurried coupling in the middle of the road – but nothing unusual. They all appeared unaware of the woman cradling the dead child.
It was amazing to watch as this sad bundle of muscle and skin would fall off her back and rest on the ground as she moved. Then, as she moved, she would pick it up, put it in its position, and make any necessary adjustments. The regiment turned off the road and into the bushes after we had passed the bridge. Was the incident distressing? Given the baby’s state of decomposition, I didn’t think so. But I was struck by this mother’s resolute determination to not abandon her.