The Manyane camping ground at Pilanesberg Game Reserve is one of those places where nature gets right into your face. Or, in our case, right into your tent. Don’t get me wrong, I love getting close to nature, but in this case, up close and personal is just a bit of an understatement.
We already knew that baboons are a problem at Manyane, since we watched them upending our neighbours’ dustbin in search of food the first morning we arrived. Although their pillaging is inconvenient, it’s not unexpected – most nature reserves have problems with monkeys. The difference is that while monkeys are mischievous, baboons are aggressive and dangerous.
At first, we were quite enamoured with the wildlife that seemed to roam freely through the camping ground. A small herd of impala grazed right next to our tent most days. A family of warthogs were next to stroll past, the tusks on the matron large enough to make us wary of getting too close to the little ones. And while I was leisurely reading my book one afternoon, a neighing sound made me look up to see that our latest visitor was a zebra without any issues against close human contact. Although this was pretty amazing, I started wondering what exactly was to stop hyenas or lions or leopards from entering as well?
On our last full day at Pilanesberg, we decided to have a final drive through the game reserve. Knowing that the food stores in our tent might be of interest to the baboons, we zipped it up and locked it, just in case they figured out how to open zips. We left early morning and only returned at 18:00 that evening to utter chaos.
Our tent had been ransacked! I looked at the rips and thought that thieves had gotten in, using a knife to slash the locked rooms of our tent open. But on second glance, I realised that the valuables (the camping fridge and Gareth’s portable DVD player) were still there, but that the contents of the crates containing our food were scattered all over the place, that everything had beetroot smears over it and that puddles of pee were collecting in corners. Apparently the baboons had had quite the party inside my suitcase, because my clothes were smeared with bits of food, and the bottle of tomato sauce (which they had thankfully not managed to pry open) was covered in primate saliva. It was a mess.
At that point Gareth and I decided to pack up and go home a day early. We had no food left, no clean clothes for the next day and we weren’t going to spend a night in a tent with gaping holes at a campsite that clearly couldn’t keep wild animals outside where they belonged. And then it started to rain.
While we were hurriedly trying to sort out what we could keep and what should be tossed away, the security guard on duty that day came to explain what had happened and apologise. He said he’d been called to the office and by the time he started patrolling again, the baboons had already done the damage. Along with another guard, he helped us take down our tent in the pouring rain and then told us to go speak to the camp manager, who might be able to arrange alternative accommodation for the evening.
The manager apologised profusely for the inconvenience and offered us a night’s lodging in one of the camp’s permanent executive tents. I explained to him that we had no food or clean clothes left and that all we wanted to do is go home and shower. I asked for a refund, since we would be going home one day early. He offered credit instead, which he said we could use at a later stage for one night’s stay in a cabin if we were willing to pay in the difference. We agreed, too tired and fed up to bother with any further arguments.
And so we set out back home, in the dark, disappointed that our first outing in this brand new tent had ended in disaster and vowing to never camp at Pilanesberg (or anywhere where baboons might pose a problem, for that matter) in future again.
Have you had a run in with baboons while camping? Do you think that camping places should be better safeguarded against destructive animals? Or do you think animals should have first rights in a camping area and people should put up with their antics?