Death by orangutan …

An elephant at YankariWe all have incidents in our lives, I think, that scare us a little as we look back on them, cases where we came far closer than we’d like to very bad things happening, even closer than we realized at the time. Its remarkable how funny these incidents can seem from hindsight, even when they aren’t so funny at the time, but in this case, its actually about a dead heat … I must admit, as dangerous as I knew the situation was when it happened, I couldn’t help laughing about it at the time as well.

I’d been in Lagos for about 6 months, working like crazy along with a bunch of other people, and the office was finally up and running in some semblance of order. A colleague and I decided we needed a trip to see something other than Lagos, so for my first trip in Nigeria, we decided on a game park near Jos, called Yankari. Its a wonderful little park, not nearly as big or as diverse as you might find in Eastern Africa, but still a wonderful experience for someone who has never been to any African game park. There were many cool things about the trip, not least was seeing live elephants in the wild, an experience that is wholly different from seeing them in a zoo. One of the other “cool” things, however, became apparent almost immediately after we go to the park late on a Friday afternoon.

The camp where all the tourist huts were was “overrun” by a troop of semi-tame orangutans. Now, if you’ve never seen an orangutan up close, they are truly remarkable creatures. Extremely human-like, they have complex vocalizations and facial expressions, and this particular troop of 2 or 3 dozen animals had adapted quite nicely to living off the discards of the camp. They tended to stay out of the way, but certainly not out of sight … within minutes of parking our car, one had taken up residence on the roof, and stayed there pretty much the whole weekend. He’d let us get in and out of the car no problem, but he seemed to like the seat.

Anyway, on the final drive from Jos to Yankari, we’d stopped and picked up some fresh fruit, one of the true joys of Nigeria. Whatever other problems the country might have, the natural bounty is incredible, and bananas and pineapple, especially for me, were truly amazing there. We’d picked up a bunch on the drive in, which I proceeded to load into my room for breakfasts the rest of the weekend, when we arrived. It was fairly late in the day, so we pretty much went straight to dinner, and a night of Nigerian Star beer and fun around a fire with some people we met who were doing roughly what Pierre and I were, except they were there after setting up a Pepsi plant.

The next morning was a bit hazy … Star beer is renowned for the hangovers, but after a few liters of bottled water I started to feel human. I grabbed a banana out of my stash and wandered out onto my patio. It was a gorgeous sunny morning, and I remember stretching in the sunlight … just as an orangutan jumped onto the deck, ran over, grabbed the just peeled banana out of my hand, and ran off again to sit about 30 ft away to enjoy his fruit. I went back inside my hut pretty quick.

I think its only really in hindsight that i realize how close I came to serious injury that day. In retrospect, it was certainly a bit silly to wander outside with a banana, but getting mugged by an orange monkey wasn’t exactly something I’d planned for. It certainly could have gone worse, and its possible I was in as much, or possibly even more, danger when we were on our game drive and we drove the truck between two bull male elephants and their herd in the watering hole, or when I jumped off the truck first to notice the log a foot or so to the left of where I steped get up and waddle off into the river, but I’ll never forget the orangutan that stole my banana … I’m not sure there’s a more stereotypical story for Africa, but it happened pretty much exactly like I describe here. For the record, orangutans DO like bananas.

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