National Geographic : 2002 Nov
about to do, he also loses all mating rights. "The only males that get sex in this society are the family males," Hunter reiterated. "There aren't any secret matings. It all happens right out in the open." UNTER HAD SPOTTED Pete's position-threatening injury on our first after noon among the geladas. Several months had passed since Hunter had last been with them, but by moving slowly and making some mumbling, gelada-like contentment sounds-mmpf, mmpf, ummm-he finessed our way right into the center of gelada activity. All around us the animals sat hunched slightly forward, plucking grass and herbs. Geladas are extremely vocal, with a repertoire of over 30 different sounds. The air was full of their calls, some muted and soft when they were graz ing peacefully, others sharp and angry when one family strayed into another's feeding area. Every so often an anxious female called out aaangh-human!-ifshe grazed too close to us, or gave a quick ang-dog-if she spotted a farmer's cur. But mostly there was the sound of 800 hands snapping off the slender blades of grass, a sound not unlike the steady tap of a gentle rain against a windowpane. Hunter, who had been surveying the geladas, looking for those he knew best, suddenly bore in on a male that sat only ten feet from us. "I think that's Pete," Hunter said. "I named him after a wonderful, wild-haired professor of mine, so I have a soft spot for him. But what's happened to his hand?" Hunter lifted his binoculars to study the male's face. Pete had unusually deep and wide wrinkles on his face as well as a scar shaped like an X beside his nose, and one of his female partners, Monica, had a deformed upper left arm caused by parasitic worms. Hunter always looked for Monica after sighting Pete just to make sure he had the right family. "Well, Mon ica's there, and that one with the kinked tail is another one of his wives, Sandy. And he has Cathy and Jenny with him too." Monica was Pete's grooming partner. In some primate societies that relationship might put her at the top of the totem pole, but not among geladas. "It simply means she doesn't have any close females in the group to groom with," Hunter said. "Maybe she's only had sons and no daughters, so she doesn't have any strong female allies and is stuck with Pete. Cathy, the alpha, would never lower herself to that." Indeed, Hunter explained, Cathy barely paid any attention to Pete, "except when keep ing him in line and when she's ovulating." Cathy might ignore Pete, but on this sunny morning she was grazing beside him; he had not yet lost her support. "He still has his family, but he's going to have a tough go of it," Hunter predicted. "It looks as if he's broken his hand." Aside from his injured hand, Pete was L MIiUf NTAIN A Camp "0Y'HOALPARK ". Main road SOther road or trail Scale varies in this perspective. Distance from Chennek to Sankaber is II miles (17 kilometers). SOURCES:STEPHANIMFELD,UNNERSIT OFZURICH,SWITZERLAND; SDN SCHLCH, UNIVERSITYOF BERNE,SWITZERLAND Ambaras GEOGRAPHIC MAPS A Highland Park Protected but still farmed and heavily grazed, Simen Mountains National Park (green border) houses only one percent of all geladas, including Chadden Hunter's study animals. The rest of these endemic monkeys (or crop-eating pests to locals) occupy just a fraction of Theropithecus' historic range, scattered about the highlands, with a small, isolated population south near Goba. Climate change, which helped wipe out related species, now threatens the alpine grasses that nourish T. gelada. Says Hunter, "A few degrees warmer and the geladas could run out of food."