Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Baboon Caper

A greedy baboon set up a daring backpack rescue for Brooks' Bunch security personnel

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Photo by Gary Rothstein © - The Brooks' Bunch found out the hard way that, yes, baboons are very aggressive

(contributed by Charlie Nobles)

CAPE TOWN, S. Africa - The "Baboon Caper" highlighted Monday's adventures for Brooks' Bunch, as its wide-ranging tour of South Africa continued, courtesy of Tampa Bay Bucs' linebacker Derrick Brooks.

A morning 12-mile mountain bike trip in idyllic weather and through mostly breathtaking scenery was nearing a conclusion when the group came to a halt near the Cape of Good Hope to view several families of baboons that inhabit the mountainside.

Nearby, a sign said, "Baboons are dangerous and attracted by food." Aggressive, too, it turns out.

Silas Taylor, a 16-year-old Tampa Hillsborough High student, found out. He had turned his backpack over to an employee of Downhill Adventures, organizers of the mountain bike trip, who then placed it on a trailer leading the group. In a flash a baboon slipped in, grabbed the backpack and bounded away.

"He ran a few yards, stopped, set the bag down and looked back," said Bob Hansen, a cameraman with Tampa's NBC television affiliate, who is serving as the group's videographer. "Then he picked up the bag, ran a few more yards, stopped and looked back again."

By this time, Brooks' Bunch security personnel Conrad (Gibbs) Gerber and Johan Fritz had ditched their bikes and were rushing toward the baboon. Often in cases like this, the baboon will abandon his pilfered goods. Not this time. He took off up the steep hillside with his prize. Gerber and Fritz took off after him.

"We hired them for civil unrest," Brooks was to say later of the group's security company. "And this was civil unrest."

Soon, Gerber and Fritz were several hundred yards up the mountain, trying to maintain their balance and pushing aside thorny bushes to find the backpack. Down below, Brooks' Bunch - 20 teenage recipients of this free educational trip, 10 chaperones and nine other travelers, including Bucs Coach Tony Dungy and his wife Lauren -- paid rapt attention as the drama unfolded.

Ricky Gallon, a former University of Louisville basketball player serving as one of the chaperones, had told of watching television the night before and seeing a woman have her purse stolen by a baboon as she merely bent over to give her child some ice cream.

"Right after we heard that, the back pack was taken," Lauren Dungy said.

For the longest time, it appeared as if Gerber and Fritz would come back empty-handed. Brooks even began discussing with Taylor how his missing items could be replaced - the malaria pills, the CDs, the clothing.

As the group focused on the mountainside, another baboon made a run at a daring theft. He went in one side of the opened trail car and out the other, but took nothing.

"He tried to jump in our back window, but we rolled the window up," said 16-year-old Irene Monroe of Orlando Evans High. "He definitely wasn't shy."

Upon advice of the security company, Brooks then shepherded his group down the road from the baboons' territory, so as not to spark another incident. And the group went about taking the usual posed photos in front of a sign signaling the Cape of Good Hope, where over the centuries many boats have found a dead end in seeking a way around Africa.

The backpack was presumed lost after the travelers boarded a bus to leave the area. But, presto, there came Gerber clutching it.

"It's a little dirty, but you have it back," he said.

Taylor found a tear in the bag, plus noticed that some crackers were missing. Yet he shrugged off the whole episode, almost embarrassed by the attention.

"Stuff like that happens," he said softly.

His fellow travelers wouldn't let him forget it. He was photographed near a sign showing a baboon looking to grab some food, with a big X through the sign. And a little later, Brooks presented a T-shirt depicting the same thing to both Taylor and Fritz.

Standing nearby, chaperone Kevin Gatlin took a playful jab at Dungy. "Coach, you went a long way to get an honorary Buccaneer," Gatlin said, meaning the baboon.

Soon, it was on to visit an old lighthouse, have lunch, then check out a penguins sanctuary and botanical gardens.

By the time the last stop on the list arrived, the youngsters were feeling the wearying effects of the 12-mile mountain bike ride. So the group virtually marched through the botanical gardens.

That cleared the way for the evening extravaganza - fine dining at the Villamora Restaurant, dressed up and driven there in vintage automobiles. Some of the transportation included a 1938 Chevrolet, a 1950 Hudson, a Studebaker from the 1950s, a '56 Ford and a sporty car that served as the forerunner to the Audi.

Thus a day that began with bike-riding and wonderful views and baboons was rounded out nicely with the youngsters dressed as if going to the prom and choosing from a menu at a world-class restaurant.

"We had a little bit of everything today," Dungy said.

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