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The Leopards Vs. the Baboons: Nobody Can Think of Everything

September 15, 1986|ALAN NEIDLE | Alan Neidle, a former State Department official and arms-control negotiator, is a member of the Washington-based Committee for National

Deep in the jungle a troop of baboons engaged in a most unusual project. They were constructing a large net that would extend over the place where they lived--a rocky clearing in the forest.

The baboons had been inspired by their leader, who had shared with them a dream. He had told them that baboons--fathers, mothers and babies--should all be free from the threat of attack from leopards. "We are capable of great achievements. We are the smartest and most talented animals in the forest. I call on you," the leader had concluded, "to build a shield over our homes that will make the leopard impotent and obsolete."

Accepting the challenge, a particularly brainy baboon had been appointed the czar of the project. The czar had supervised months of research into all possible ways to construct nets over their homes. He and his associates had woven nets from rushes, but these were so dense that they would have condemned the baboons to live in darkness. Then they built a net of thin vines, but when the strands dried they became brittle and broke.

The project czar would not accept defeat, and eventually he discovered an entirely new technology. He found that there was one type of spider web that consisted of unusually strong strands. When these were braided together they formed a tough and flexible fiber. The great construction effort then proceeded rapidly, and a large white canopy soon extended over the rocky home of the baboons.

It was time to test the structure. Several courageous baboons volunteered to leap from a nearby tree to see whether the net would hold. But the baboon czar saw immediately that none of these candidates were suitable. They were all lean, athletic, young. None were as heavy as a full-grown leopard. And so the czar surveyed the troop and found an older male baboon, once a famous warrior, who had grown obese. But he was still a staunch patriot, and was easily persuaded to make the dangerous leap into a net of uncertain strength.

The baboon leader was pleased that the net would finally be tested, and the czar felt relieved that praise for his efforts would now be fully justified. After all, not everyone would have been so clever as to calculate that the baboon who jumped into the net must weigh as much as a leopard.

On the day of the test the leader and all the other baboons turned out to observe. The old, obese baboon hauled himself to the top of a nearby tree. The baboons of the troop watched in silence. The old baboon leaped into space. He landed in the middle of the net. The net sagged. But it held.

The baboons cheered wildly, and the leader exercised his not-inconsiderable skills of oratory to praise the dedication and skill of the project czar and his team. The leader had never doubted that baboons were capable of great feats of creativity.

Thereafter the baboons spent most of their time under the protective shield. They came to have complete confidence in it. Soon a profound change occurred in baboon life. The troop abandoned the requirement of sentry duty and all the other rigors of providing for their defense.

One day many months later a couple of leopards climbed into the tree that overlooked the home of the baboons. When they saw the large webbed canopy below them they were puzzled, never having seen anything like it before. But after a few minutes one of the leopards said, "Even if we can't see them, I know there are a lot of baboons down there."

"We haven't eaten in days," said the other leopard. "Let's jump through that thing and get a good meal."

The two leopards then leaped out of the tree and soared toward the net. They landed together and the net collapsed. Underneath, the baboons were totally unprepared. Half a dozen were torn to pieces within minutes. The slaughter was terrible.

The baboons who escaped, including the leader, were very angry. A court of inquiry was organized, and the baboon czar was put on trial. In his defense he simply said: "Nobody can think of everything."

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