Man vs. baboon – the daily onslaughtApril 14th, 2011 | by Ben Grossman-Cohen
12 year old Ethiopian farmer, Dereje has a tough task when it comes to protecting his family’s crops from natural threats in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains. For weeks on end he must sleep outside, often alone, in temperatures below freezing so he can be ready at dawn to defend the family’s livelihood from a daily onslaught of feisty and hungry Gelada Baboons who want to eat his crops.
Dereje’s story is one of many captured beautifully (and in high definition) in the new Discovery Channel show Human Planet, which takes a bold and compelling look at the lengths to which people in extreme circumstances will go to put food on their family’s plates. It’s a stunning portrait of how people around the world eke out their livelihoods under difficult and often dangerous conditions.
But while Human Planet opens our eyes with dramatic and exciting images of ominous and threatening situations, it stops short of articulating the obvious underlying social critique. There’s scant mention of why, in a world where some have immense wealth and opportunity, this 12 year old boy must sleep in the cold by night and fight baboons by day. It’s easy to guess why viewers don’t hear about the more than 30 million people in Ethiopia– nearly half the country’s population – who are undernourished. Because who really wants to think about that on a Sunday night?
There’s no doubt that it’s much harder to craft an exciting show around the immense risk to Ethiopian farmers’ crops from more frequent and extreme droughts resulting from climate change, than it is to show a kid slinging rocks at baboons. And I can’t blame the show’s producers for letting these realities go unspoken; after all, their goal is better ratings not social change. Maybe it’s for the best, as it’s pretty hard to miss the message flowing through each of the vignettes: in some places, economic opportunity is very hard to come by. Sometimes it just takes a few pretty pictures, and some baboons to help that medicine go down.