Jewish World Review Dec. 5, 2003 / 10 Kislev, 5764
Hey, hey, we're the monkeys (or close enough)
The journal Science published a study revealing that baboon mothers with strong social networks have greater success rearing their young. In other words, a baboon without a support group is like a soccer mom without a mini-van.
I could have told researchers that. And it wouldn't have cost a single banana.
Even strip mall coffee shops know not to mess with small packs of females. Often I have overheard a manager say to the staff, "Put the tranquilizer darts away. Just let them be and they'll leave when they're ready. Whatever you do, don't make them mad."
Every mother knows it doesn't matter where you live; it matters that you get away from where you live. Every woman needs to get out the house/jungle/whatever and realize there is life beyond the trees and walls that contain them. The important thing is to mix it up with other moms, compare notes on teething, feeding, the rate of tail growth and the thickness of fur. Mother networks are therapy, energy booster and reality check all rolled into one.
In the baboon world, like the human world, the more social a baboon mother is, the better parent she is. Baboons who are isolated and spend a lot of time alone, do not fare nearly as well, proving once again: When Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.
Researchers examined how social networks affected baboons' mothering ability over 16 years. Note that the researchers packed up and went home right when the little monkeys were old enough to get driver's licenses.
Female baboons form tight bonds with their mothers, aunts and sisters. No surprise there, especially to the opposite sex. There's not a male in the world, baboon or otherwise, who hasn't felt the power of that formidable female front.
Female baboons also stand together against predators. Last spring in Uganda, baboons gathered along a road and hurled edible objects at passing motorists after one of their young had been struck by a car. They gave new meaning to taking justice into their own hands. It was a drive-by fruiting and there's not a mother of any species who would fault them.
Another study revealed that baboons have a knack for grouping one another based on dominance. (Will the similarities never end?) Dominant baboons make threatening grunts. These would be the females able to direct large herds of school volunteers. They are the mothers with the courage to look another mother in the eye and grunt, "You - school carnival games."
Less-dominant females responded to the threatening grunts with screams. Translated, the screams mean: "What do you mean I'm doing carnival games? I only went to the bathroom and now I'm doing games!"
Baboons, like humans, appear to enjoy a reason to get together to socialize. Think how their networks could expand if they started lifestyle makeovers - Monkey Eye for the Ape Guy. Or consider what would happen if just one visionary baboon followed her dream of opening a Curves or hosting a Pampered Chef party.
Yet the primary way female baboons bond is by grooming, which explains in the parallel human universe why highlighting is so popular. It extends the time females can spend at a salon from a half hour for a simple cut and blow dry, to a good two hours once you throw in foils, papers and a paint brush heavy with goo.
Baboons have not discovered the refuge of the salon; they stick to picking fleas and twigs out of one another's fur. Too bad. Imagine what they could do with a little Mary Kay.
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© 2001, Lori Borgman
JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids. To comment, please click here. To visit her website click here.
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