1 x 60 minutes
Filmed, Produced / Directed & Written for NHU Africa
Showing on Animal Planet Australia & NZ. Available from distributor Zodiak Rights
Rita Miljo lives with over 500 baboons and she has saved every one of them. To many Rita is an irritant. Baboons in South Africa have been traditionally regarded as vermin, animals to be shot at rather than saved. In South African eyes she is a freak. But elsewhere in the world she is revered, often referred to as the ‘Jane Goodall’ or ‘Diane Fossey’ of baboons,’ a visionary whose pioneering work against a backdrop of hate and prejudice is to be celebrated.
Confrontation comes naturally to Rita. Temperamental, acerbic and somewhat irrational, she is not an easy woman to like. But scratch a little deeper and you find a complex woman with a caring and compassionate side fighting for the underdog, a woman driven by a jaw-dropping personal history that has fuelled her self-taught work and made her arguably the world’s leading expert on baboons.
Rita lives in humble dwellings. A small stone building serves as home, office, food prep area, clinic and night nursery. Shrieking, roaring, barking baboons are everywhere, EVERYWHERE. She liked to sit on a stone step and just watch her baboons. Late afternoons, as the day was drawing to a close, I would join her. She would point and prompt and talk about them all. Each had a name. The wild troop that lived alongside the rehabilitating ones seemed to gather around her. In the last shards of sunlight, a diminutive Rita surrounded by adult male baboons as tall as she was seated, was an image to treasure. She was at one with them and at odds with most who didn’t see them the way she did.
I was in the presence of someone quite extraordinary. Rita was open and caring, sharp, abrasive and sometimes downright rude. She was also wonderful company, sharing stories of days gone by and baboons of yesterday as often as our time together would allow.
Little did I know that I would be returning just over a year later under very different circumstances….
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