IN QUEST OF THE SACRED BABOON: A Scientist's Journey by Hans Kummer


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The days and nights of the hamadryas baboon are recounted in this by turns rigorous and meandering but always entertaining study from Kummer (Ethology/Univ. of Zurich). Back in 1961, Kummer trekked into eastern Ethiopia to study the hamadryas baboon, a creature the Egyptians associated with Thoth, god of scribes and scholars (though Middle Agers thought of the beast as greedy and shameless). Sixteen years later the Ogaden war put the kibosh on his research, but not before he hunted and gathered a basketful of theories underlying the baboon's behavior, and a lifetime of curious experiences afield. Committing his work to the page, Kummer takes the route recently followed by Bimte‚ Galdikas (Reflections of Eden, 1995) and others--hard science strongly laced with anecdotal glimpses of days in the field (at one point Kummer admits, ""You are probably wondering, When do they get any work done? We were wondering about that ourselves""); warm, but with an obvious intelligence, a sword with two sharp edges. His fieldwork is dauntingly thorough, something right out of a survival course--tracking the baboons hither and von over the harshest of terrains, forever on his toes to witness their every behavioral quirk. He takes the time to chew over both his own and other ethological and sociobiological theories: family life and decision processes, the anatomy of social organizations, ecological programs, when guile is an asset, when not . . . right down to the interpretation of gestures. Then he will spin a yarn with delightful ease--particularly the tale of the monk, the silver ball, and the six glasses of water--or with equal facility conjure a sense of place: ""The wet dust smells of freshly washed linen."" Kummer has smartly etched his name in what is fast becoming a worthy tradition--stylish writing that twines field research with campfire tale.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1995
Page count: 408pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.