Monkeyland baboons ride horseback

IT might have started out as just a little bit of monkeying around, but the antics of a troop of baboons and a rather bemused horse are making waves in Plettenberg Bay.

When a female member of the troop, perhaps tired of travelling on foot, decided to hitch a horseback ride, staff at Monkeyland watched in delight.

Members of her troop have now followed suit and film-makers and photographers are flocking to the popular Garden Route getaway to snap the rare phenomenon.

Monkeyland marketing manager Lara Mostert said it was a couple of years ago that a lone baboon was spotted riding horse Jericho, but it was only in June this year that the first photograph was snapped.

"A couple of years ago we noticed that a female baboon would climb onto a horse but no one ever had a camera handy," she said

Sanctuary volunteer Claire Hamilton snagged the first shot in June. Then, to her amazement, other members of the troop starting joining in.

"I see the baboons and horses every day and the first time I saw the female on Jericho I couldn't believe it. I rushed home and got my camera and they were still there when I got back."

Then, last month, Hamilton saw about seven baboons playing on Jericho's back – and again raced for her camera.

"There are two other horses living with Jericho but they are not having it. The baboons are a little nervous of the two females."

The female baboon who started all the fun is "obsessed with Jericho," Hamilton said, and she follows the horse around the field and lies on his back, sometimes somersaulting off.

Mostert said it is predominantly the "tween" baboons who have taken to the bareback escapades.

News of the strange sight soon spread and Beyond Borders film school student Rebecca Ziegler captured video footage that was uploaded to YouTube earlier this week.

Beyond Borders CEO Sebastien Rombi said, "As part of our course we offer students the chance to film something local so Rebecca, who is from the US, chose the horse and baboons. It really is quite unique."

Peter Lamberti, CEO of Aquavision TV Productions in Johannesburg, will arrive at Monkeyland at the end of the month to film at the sanctuary, Mostert said.

"Peter is not necessarily filming the horses and baboons – they simply triggered his interest. He is coming to have a look at Monkeyland, Birds of Eden and Jukani to see what type of stories he could film here."

A visit by a German film crew will follow. - Angela Daniels