A Day at Baboon Camp

I spent 7 months last year (Jan-Jul 2014) collecting behavioral data on wild olive baboons in Kenya. Here I give an overview of a typical day at the field site.

The alarm goes off at 5:10 AM. I growl and scramble for the snooze button. Repeat 1 to 3 times.

By 5:25 AM I have my headlamp on, and I am frantically brushing my teeth under the moon. I then run inside to start boiling water. Coffee is a must for me.

While the water boils and coffee steeps, I do an equipment check. Do I have everything? Are all electronics charged?

I also grab a quick breakfast. Cereal, pb&j, plain bread – whatever is easiest.

Mornings are rough for me. But our camp cat, Moo, makes them quite bearable.

mooAt 5:45 AM, we hop in the truck and begin the dark drive out to the sleeping site. It’s a 45-minute drive, which guarantees a nice sunrise, a view of Mt Kenya, and some wildlife sightings. We drive through two small villages and glimpse the locals starting off their days: cooking, waiting for the buses, walking to the shops.

mt kenya

We pull up to our ‘parking spot,’ hop out, and throw our packs on. It’s chilly at this time of morning. I’m wondering why I didn’t keep my flannel on for the walk out to the baboons.

After about 10 minutes, we get to the base of the sleeping site. Most mornings we have to hike up to the top — a great warm-up at 7:00 AM. But sometimes, we get lucky and the baboons greet us at the bottom.


Once we are with the troop, we begin data collection. I pull out my palm pilot and start my first focal follow (more details on this in a future post). More often than not, my focal animal will take off running into dense opuntia plants and out of sight. Abort focal. Not the best start to the day.

babs sleeping site

But as the day goes on, I gather a lot of data.


I move with the troop throughout the morning and early afternoon. We travel up and over sleeping sites, through gullies, and through dense opuntia patches and acacia trees. On a good day, I get a few opuntia needles stuck somewhere on my body and on a bad day, I go home with 100s of needles (major tweezers time).


Under the strong mid-afternoon sun, the baboons seek shade under trees and take a rest. By this time, we have collected a good amount of data, enjoyed some baboon drama, and we head home.


Upon arrival back to camp, we give Moo some loving, take a bucket shower, and have a quick meal.


Then it’s time for data entry, relaxation, dinner, and bed. Most days, I am in bed by 8:30 PM, reflecting on another drama-filled day of baboon behavior and already wishing I had more time before the alarm goes off.


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