"We have learned a lot from observing animals," says American primatologist Paula Pebsworth, who has recently completed her dissertation on self-medicative behavior in chacma baboons in Wildcliff, a small private nature reserve in South Africa's Western Cape. "The decision [of] what to eat must have been a difficult one for early man and woman, as many plants are toxic and a bad choice could cost you your life. Taking note of what plants animals ate could have helped humans determine which ones were not only safe, but might also restore health."
These historic (and prehistoric) intersections between humans and baboons are only one of many reasons Pebsworth is fascinated with these social primates. For her, their emotions are raw and unfiltered, their family lives full of joy and playful interludes, their relationships complex.
In the short film Brilliant Baboon, which premiered earlier this month at the Taos Shortz Film Festival, Pebsworth sits down with Izilwane to talk about her research into geophagy – the use of medicinal plants and the consumption of soil – her work at Wildcliff, and her own personal connections to one of our closest living relatives.