Posted: 04/07/2006


PBS Nature: Murder in the Troop


by Shannon Huebscher

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Another winner from the Nature program, Murder in the Troop is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the chacma baboons that live amongst the plains and riverbanks of Zimbabwe. This program follows the social hierarchies of a particular baboon troop, as well as the battles they face as a vulnerable prey to many African predators.

Although baboons do not physically possess many familiar characteristics to ourselves, we are quickly shown many similarities within their sentiments towards one another. Within their groups, or “troops” as they are known, we are shown the love and affection that runs rampantly between family and friends. From relying on their friends during times of strife, to the scenes of them cuddling and grooming one another, we are reminded that they are our distant cousins.

That reminder loses clarity when we are introduced to the new dominant male, who takes over the troop in a most brutal way - he abducts and murders one of the baby baboons. At first this seems completely pointless, but then we learn that the new king was killing the baby because he wants dominance over all of the females, and when the female is with a baby and is nursing, they will not go into heat for six months after that. This is somehow far too long for the new king, and by killing the baby, he becomes master of not only the troop but also over all of the females sexually.

A touching scene ensues after this baby baboon was killed - the father of the baby runs after the new dominant male and tries his hardest to prevent his child from being killed. Even though he is unsuccessful, his effort does not go unnoticed. Later, the mother finds her baby’s dead body, and carries it around with her for weeks after it is killed, somehow hoping that it will miraculously come back to life. The sense of sorrow and compassion is clearly communicated in this program.

As we follow this troop, we watch them battle the elements of searching for food during the dry months, and try to escape becoming prey to their many enemies. To do the African python that slithers it’s way through their troop, to the crocodile who waits patiently at their watering hole, to the leopard that climbs their tree at night while they are sleeping - these baboons are never able to completely feel safe!

Murder in the Troop reminds us that even though we may live very different lives than those of the baboons in this program, we also share the same sensibilities towards friendship, family, and doing what we have to in order to survive. Those baboons may live thousands of miles away, but what they endure brings those feelings very close to home.

Shannon Huebscher is a film critic and writer living in the Midwest.

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