6 February 2009

Kids and kin

When Ahla comes home in the evening after feeding, she will go...through a door to the lambs' enclosure. From here, she can only hear the adult animals but not see them. Once she hears from inside the voice of a lamb that is calling for its mother, she will retrieve the correct lamb and jump through the opening...and put it underneath its mother so it can drink. She does this flawlessly even when several other mothers are calling and several lambs are responding at the same time... She also retrieves lambs and brings them back even before mother and infant have begun calling. Mrs Aston [the farm's owner] noted that "No local personnel and no white person would be able to assign correctly the 20 or more identically looking lambs to the mothers. However Ahla is never wrong".
Ahla, explain Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth [1], was a baboon. According to their source, she was never trained to recognise the kinship relations between mother goats and their kids:
She does things that she has never observed and that she has never been told. Ocassionaly though, she was punished with a belt when for instance she took a lamb up into the top of the trees where she slept.

[1] Baboon Metaphysics (2007). Cheny and Seyfarth record that goat herding with baboons was practiced by the Namaqua people before it was practiced by people of European descent in Southern Africa. Their source for the story of Ahla is Hoesch, von W. (1961) Uber Ziegen huetende Baerenpaviane. Other amazing baboon stories include Jack the Signalman.

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