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Monkey business in the Simien Mountains

By Damon Winter (The New York Times) | China Daily/Agencies | Updated: 2013-02-04 10:03

Monkey business in the Simien Mountains

Geladas play in the shadow and light created by the morning sun. Provided to China Daily

I was in Ethiopia in November for a month long Africa assignment and the final leg of our trip sent us to Ethiopia, where we took a quick detour to the Simien Mountains, full of deep gorges and intricate mazes of canyons.

The mountains are home to the gelada, sometimes called bleeding heart baboons because of a red patch on the chest of the males. (They are actually not baboons, although closely related.) They live exclusively on the short, tough grasses that grow on the Simiens' slopes.

The gelada are so used to visitors they hardly notice people anymore. They move in large bands from one patch of grass to another, and you can walk alongside the group and watch a complete range of social behavior unfold right in front of you.

You can see the delicate dance between the male and female that defines their social structure, and watch the alpha males defend their territory and their harem from aggressors.

On our last morning there, we found one band grazing in a small field of grass near a cliff edge.

After watching for about an hour in the field, I wandered over to the edge of the cliff and sat down to take in the view. Within about 20 minutes, the entire band of geladas had shifted positions and encircled me. It was as if I was just a part of the landscape.

The New York Times

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