Yesterday saw an interesting discovery for us GVI folk here in Shimoni forest. We were at the end of the negative sections of transect 5, innocently conducting a butterfly sweep net survey, when we were stuck with a very intense smell of decay. We spent a good few minutes trying to establish the source, but soon discovered where it was coming from. Tucked away right at the foot of an impressively sized baobab tree, lay the semi-decayed corpse of a yellow baboon!
Baboons are a very widespread and successful group, who can be found in most places across sub-Saharan Africa. They are certainly abundant in Kenya, and there is a lively population here in Shimoni. In many places in Africa, they are a bothersome crop pest, and are even listed as vermin in some countries. Here in Shimoni however, the yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus) are found in the actual forest itself, and are still wild and shy, avoiding humans at all costs and surviving on the fruits of the forest alone. This makes them a fantastic animal to see when in the forest, and a relatively rare one.
This photo shows the whole body in the foetal position, with the left arm out behind its back
So you can imagine our surprise when we stumbled across this poor fellow! Its very difficult to say exactly what happened to it, especially as none of us here are experts in dead bodies or establishing causes of death! There were no obvious injuries or wounds that gave it away (we did look quite closely), although there was a lot of dry blood around the body. It was at the foot of a big baobab, so perhaps it fell out of the tree? It was also right on the edge of a shamba (farm), so the idea of it being killed by a vengeful farmer is not impossible either.
This shot is from the other side, again of most of the body
What did strike us as strange was the apparent lack of scavenging of the body. Almost all the skin was in tact, with none of it appearing to have been eaten. Perhaps it was the location of the body – in the shadow of a big tree – that has allowed it to remain invisible and untouched by the many scavengers in the area.
A closer look at the head
It was a very interesting find; never before have we been allowed such a detailed look at the anatomy of a baboon, yet I fear the mystery of its death will remain unsolved. We will be informing the Kenya Wildlife Service of our find. I am however, going to ask their permission to bury it, and then to keep the skeleton (once it has fully decomposed), as it would be really interesting to have a full baboon skeleton to use as an educational tool. I’m not sure what protocols they have regarding dead animals, so this may not be allowed, but there’s no harm in asking!
If we come to any conclusions about the cause of death, we’ll let you all know!