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  Field Notes From
Kings of the Hill?



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On Assignment
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From Author

Virginia Morell



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From Photographer

Michael Nichols



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Brian Strauss (top) and courtesy Michael Nichols
 

On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
Kings of the Hill?

Field Notes From Author
Virginia Morell
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I had no idea what we were going to experience my first day with the geladas. It had been a few months since Chadden Hunter, an Australian wildlife biologist, had been to the area, so he told me it would probably take a couple of days before we could sit among the animals. As we walked through this beautiful green meadow, Chadden thought he recognized one family group of females, offspring, and one male. We sat down on the edge of where they were and, within minutes, a young bachelor charged up to within a foot or two of us and challenged the family male. They were flashing their upper lips and baring their canines. Their manes stood up, and they raced back and forth in the golden late-afternoon light. I didn't have a camera with me, but I still have wonderful memories of the drama unfolding right before us.



We went to a little town called Debre Libanos, near Addis Ababa. It's considered a holy place by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church because they believe Mary and Joseph stopped and rested in its forest on their way to Egypt. There are several monasteries there, and monks live in the caves. A number of geladas also live in the same area. We were driving down the main street when we saw these people with a female gelada on a leash. It's likely they were trying to sell her illegally as a pet. After spending so much time with geladas in the wild and seeing how social, intelligent, and aware they are, it was tough to see this little female captive torn away from her kind. She had a haunted look in her eyes, and one thing really struck me: Even with all those people around her, she was lonely.



One day a group of gelada bachelors were sitting behind us on a hillside intently studying a couple of family groups. We were looking in the same direction at one of the family males. Suddenly, Chadden got my attention. Two of the bachelors had come up behind us. In their society, direct eye contact is a threat, so these two took advantage of the fact that we were looking at the male to also stare at him. They added our stares to theirs, challenging him with four sets of eyes instead of just two.





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