Africa’s furry and feathered ones remind me how good (and annoying) it feels to have mom watch over your every step, ready to burst into action when needed and to wreck havoc if she suspects her baby is in any danger. When we cross the street, my mother still instinctively goes for my hand, even if I’m already holding my husband’s. Once, I made the mistake of climbing out to the fire escape of my grandma’s fifth-floor apartment to clean a window and was brought back in by force uncharacteristic of a seventy year-old woman. My argument that I’d rappelled twenty story-high canyon walls made little impression.
Walking among penguins and baboons, I’m amazed by their human-like attitude toward their young. In Betty’s Bay I watch Ma and Pa penguins take their youngsters for a walk on the beach. The parents in their black and white formal wear follow chubby juveniles who seem overdressed, the way my grandma would overdress me on cold winter days in Kiev, their gray heads drowning in turtleneck vests of baby down. Those too small to venture outside the safety of a nest sit under a big flat wing of a parent. Curious of the outside world, the tiny ones all but slip between mom’s “fingers”, but she is ready for their tricks and for the prying two-legged intruders too. She’d snap their camera lenses with her strong beak without a second thought, if they came too close, never mind that another overprotective mother is staring back at her from it.
While penguins in their black tuxedos are a bit uptight, baboons at first seem very relaxed with their kids, but as you watch them for some time, you’ll see they do take parenthood and the well-being of their offspring seriously. Baby baboons play on dry branches sticking out of the ground under the watchful eye of the whole family, even that of the “teenagers” wrestling close by. As long as I stayed close to the ground, most went about their business as usual, only the one mama I was closest to held her baby’s tail firmly but gently, keeping it on a short leash. I kept my distance; if you saw them yawn you wouldn’t want to make any of these pink bummed mamas angry.