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A Primate's Memoir
An Excerpt From Chapter Three

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A Primate's Memoir

A Primate's Memoir
by Robert M. Sapolsky
Scribner
304 pages, $25

What I actually wind up doing for a living is trying to act nonchalant around baboons, get them to turn around, forget about me. Which is a lot trickier than you'd think, even with a college education.

You wake up at five in the morning, tense as hell, get things ready in the dark. Anesthetic, darts, blowgun, syringes, vacutainers, centrifuge, liquid nitrogen tanks, needles, vials, burlap to cover the animal, instant ice bags, cages, scales, emergency medicines if there's an accident, powerverters to run everything off of the Jeep batteries, pipettes, slides, test tubes, endless crap. Find the baboons by 6:30, as they come down off their rocks or trees that they slept in. Pick someone, start stalking, start calculating—which way will he run when hit, up a tree? Up the rocks? How do you get him down if he does that so that he doesn't pass out and fall? What if he attacks someone else, what if he gets attacked—who's pissed off at him these days and would love to slash his throat while he's staggering around half-conscious? What if he attacks you? Which direction is the wind going, how much do you have to compensate in the shot, shit, can't shoot, some weasly kid is looking right at you, go stalk from a different position, he's not looking, no one else looking, ready for a shot, fabulous, fabulous, this is going to be perfect, get ready, feel absolutely sick to your stomach with tension, realize you're hyperventilating so much that you can't blow the blowgun properly—you'll either accidentally inhale the dart or shoot it two feet because of shallow breath. Shit, shit, he's moved again, reposition, control your breath, he's looking straight at you now, act nonchalant, how the hell do you act nonchalant in front of a baboon anyway? He's in a perfect position now, but turned sideways, too much peripheral vision. Crouch and wait, tense, not moving a muscle, near to cramping, there's some goddamn bug biting your calf but you don't want to move, keep still still still until you realize you just want to scream and run amok and bowl him over, then perfect, a fight breaks out elsewhere irresistible to baboon voyeurs, he turns around, cranes his neck to look at the action elsewhere, full clear beautiful meaty rear end, zip!, dart in his ass, and he's off.


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Copyright © 2001 by Robert M. Sapolsky. All rights reserved.