The leopard and the baby baboon


I have been puzzling over, and moved by, a scene from Eye of the Leopard, a film by Dereck and Beverly Joubert, a handsome couple (above) who are quite the up-and-coming wildlife-documentary makers.

It is the second clip in this video, called “Unlikely Surrogate”.

The “plot”, as provided by Mother Nature (and as narrated by Jeremy Irons):

A leopard hunts a baboon mother, kills her and begins to drag her up on tree for the feast. Suddenly, something wriggles, and it is the one-day old baboon baby that was clinging onto her mother and now falls out.

The leopard pauses. … It does not know how to react. It watches the baby for hours. Then it gently picks the little primate up with its fangs and carries it further up to the tree to safety from other predators. The leopard licks and comforts the baboon baby whose mother the cat has just killed. The baboon baby recognizes the kindness and snuggles into the leopard’s chin. They cuddle for hours together against the cold. Then the leopard moves back down to eat the baby’s mother.

You can study biology, Darwin, evolution. You can hypothesize why this trait is passed on and not that trait. You can throw around fancy terms, such as cross-species altruism. And just when you’re feeling reassuringly scientific, nature reminds you of her eternal, sublime, moving mystery.

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5 thoughts on “The leopard and the baby baboon

  1. You left out the bit where the baby dies of cold. All this scene taught me was that a human did not intervene to save this poor creature for the sake of yet another documentary about cats killing things.

    • The infant baboon was doomed; human intervention would only have created another caged animal. And a dangerous, destructive one at that. “[A]nother documentary about cats killing things.” And how else would you have the leopard get its food?

    • I agree with Tony. They could have taken it to a wildlife refuge where it could have been nursed and then released when old enough to survive with another troop of baboons – NOT caged as Peter H suggests (I volunteer at a wildlife rescue in Costa Rica – rehab & release with baby monkeys in new troops is the norm). I am not begrudging the leopard for surviving by eating the baby’s mother. But how disgusting and cruel to allow the baby to suffer and die alone, scared, hungry, and cold. Heartlessness, rather than humanity, won for the sake of a movie.

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