Mountain State of Mind

EPISODE 2: ‘In Defense of Baboons’

In the second episode of the “Mountain State of Mind” podcast of the Charleston Gazette-Mail,  host Douglas Imbrogno talks with WVU law professor and critically acclaimed poet and author Michael Blumenthal, who in another life would have liked to have been a primate zoologist. Blumenthal talks about his up close and personal encounter with “the Mother Teresa of Baboons,’ and the book he cobbled together with her help, documenting her amazing life story. Below is the first part of a companion article to the podcast, published in the Sunday, March 6, 2016 edition of the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

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By Douglas Imbrogno
Charleston Gazette-Mail

It was a most unlikely encounter beside a crocodile-filled river in South Africa in 2007.

The meeting had been set in motion months before when Michael Blumenthal, a visiting professor of law at West Virginia University, saw an episode on Animal Planet about Rita Miljo, a woman dubbed “The Mother Teresa of Baboons.”

Blumenthal, a critically acclaimed poet, author and former director of Harvard University’s creative writing program, was stirred to interest.

The program depicted a tough, unsentimental woman in her 70s who had devoted much of her later adult life to adopting, caring for and releasing orphaned infant baboons back into the wild as members of functioning baboon troops.

What Blumenthal learned of Miljo and her organization — C.A.R.E. (the Center for Animal Rehabilitation and Education) — so intrigued him that he tracked her down. He asked if he could come volunteer for a month at her preserve in the South African outback, south of the copper mining town of Phalaborwa.

In short order, he was soon strolling with Miljo one day in May 2007 beside the Olifants River near Kruger National Park. (But not too close to the river because one local resident had gotten drunk, leapt into the river and was eaten by a crocodile.)

Crocodiles, as well as elephants, lions, hippos, leopards, warthogs, pythons, jackals and chacma baboons — many, many chacma baboons — were just part of Miljo’s everyday landscape.

“Baboons were kind of hated because they would break into everything and eat crops and a lot of them were shot,” Blumenthal said. “So there were a lot of orphan baboons. She decided that she was going to start this center for orphan baboons and raise them and then reintroduce them into the wild when they were old enough…” | READ ON