The Hard Life Of The Alpha Male

Laurence R. Gesquiere, a research associate in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton, and colleagues report in the journal Science that in five troops of wild baboons in Kenya studied over nine years, alpha males showed very high stress levels, as high as those of the lowest-ranking males.

The stress, they suggested, was probably because of the demands of fighting off challengers and guarding access to fertile females. Beta males, who fought less and had considerably less mate guarding to do, had much lower stress levels. They had fewer mating opportunities than the alphas, but they did get some mating in, more than any lower-ranking males. After all, when the alpha gets in another baboon bar fight, who’s going to take the girl home?—”Baboon Study Shows Benefits for Nice Guys, Who Finish 2nd,” The New York Times

“Dude, this sucks,” Alpha Baboon said. “I hate my life.”

“Dude, you get so much baboontang. I don’t want to hear it,” said Beta Baboon.


Alpha shook his head. “God, If I said that…”

The Hottest Female Baboon shuffled by, her close-set eyes adding to her severe expression. She glared at Alpha. “Did you just say baboontang?”

“It was him,” Alpha pointed to Beta.

“Oh. Well, no one cares what he does,” said the Hottest Female Baboon. “He doesn’t represent baboons, like you.”

Alpha swelled with pride. But then he noticed that Hottest Female Baboon was making eyes at a passing male baboon. “Afternoon, gorgeous,” the male baboon said. Then, as if he were Jake Gyllenhaal and someone had tried to photograph him peeing at South by Southwest, Alpha grabbed the other baboon around the throat and pushed him up against a rubber tree. “Don’t even think about it,” Alpha hissed. After catching his breath other baboon loped off into the jungle. The Hottest Female Baboon squeezed Alpha’s hairy bicep, stretched her mouth over her teeth, and sauntered off into the jungle.

Beta looked at Alpha admiringly. “Guess you showed him.”

But Alpha shook his head. “Shit,” he said. “I wish I could just stop doing stuff like that.”

“Hey. May I remind you, you get to bang that?” Beta cocked his head toward the retreating Hottest Female Baboon. “And every piece of chapped red ass in the savannah? It’s worth it.”

Alpha popped a nitroglycerin. “I don’t know. I mean, you do alright. Sure, supposedly mine are better quality. And the first couple of times, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah this one’s got a short tail, real perfect and shit,’ or, ‘Oh yeah, this one’s got such soft fur,’ but seriously, at the end of the day…”

Beta finished the sentence for him. “Right. You’re just fucking a baboon.”

The next day Beta was standing around wearing a Hawaiian shirt drinking a margarita and listening to Jimmy Buffett when Alpha ran by.

“Where you off to, hoss?”

But Alpha, screeching horribly, had no time.

A few minutes later he came back.

“You’ve got blood on your hands,” Beta gasped. He turned down the Jimmy Buffett.

“These jerk offs from the tribe over by the banana grove were trying to get with some of our females.”

“Did you get them?”

Alpha snorted. “Do I look like I got them?”

Four females appeared in the clearing. “We just came by to say thanks,” cooed one of them as they descended on Alpha with a chirping enthusiasm he was coming to dread. The fourth one couldn’t get in on the action, so she had sex with Beta.

About an hour later Alpha was passed out face down in a bromeliad when a messenger shook him awake and began screeching something about more marauding baboons.

“Shit,” The three females were lounging nearby, waiting for him to wake up. “Where’s Beta?” Alpha said. “I gotta go kill some other baboons. They’re trying to get with some more baboon virgins.”

“I’m pretty sure he went to get some tree sap with our friend. Don’t you want to hang around, honey? Take a bath? Have some fruits or seeds?”

But Alpha growled. “I don’t have time for that nonsense.”

He went around the baboon colony trying to get support. The baboons all jerked a thumb at their female baboon companions. “I know she’s not much, but she’s always here,” they shrugged. “We know you gotta protect your action, but at the end of the day…”

“I know, I know,” Alpha snarled. “You’re just fucking a baboon.”

Alpha fought off the invaders and went home. He just wanted to sleep, but all night baboons were shaking his branch and screeching at him to do that, rescue this, rip so and so apart with his teeth. “Go away, “ he said. Some of the virgins he’d saved that night took turns swinging on a vine, their backsides dutifully upturned, past his perch.

“Jesus,” he shouted at them. “I’m a baboon. Not a machine.”

He was lonely and mad. He needed a friend. He climbed the tree where Hottest Female Baboon liked to sleep. “You there, babe?”

“Just a minute.” Her screech was shriller than usual. He could see the guilt in her eyes, even under the overhang of her low simian forehead . He pushed aside a palm frond, and there stood Beta, his Hawaiian shirt hanging over his erect baboonhood as neatly as if it were on a hook in a motel bathroom. “Beta!” Alpha cried. “I thought we were friends!”

Beta shrugged. “You know that expression ‘bros before hos’? Well, we really don’t have anything like that.”

Then Alpha turned to the Hottest Female Baboon. “How could you?”

“He listens to me!” she cried. “And we have a good time together. All you do is complain.”

“That’s not fair,” Alpha shouted. “He doesn’t have anything to worry about. I only complain because, well, because I’m important.”

Hottest Female Baboon shook her head. With a soft wrinkled finger, she touched him on the lips, and there was a tear in her eye as she whispered, “Go get some help. Please.”

Alpha went home. He tried to cry, but of course he couldn’t. He fumed until he fell asleep. He woke up several hours later to horrible sounds of screeching. Yet another baboon colony was attacking the village. He jumped up and ran outside. He was just about to attack when he thought, Why should I bother? I don’t get anything for being the Alpha. “Guys, guys,” he tried to say. “Take whatever chicks you want, have a beer.”

But it was no use. Instinct kicked in and he fought till dawn to save innocent females and children. When it was all over, and the hot jungle sun rose on the terrible carnage, he realized he had defended the village singlehandedly.

Fellow baboons started to emerge. “That was cool of you, Alpha,” they said.

Beta stepped from behind a tree, rubbing his head. He wore a faded t-shirt reading, “Don’t Change Topanga, Let Topanga Change You.” “Shit,” he said. “I slept right through that. Nice work.”

There was a loud screech as Hottest Female Baboon darted around Beta and into Alpha’s arms. She jumped up and down and started feeding Alpha cassavas and trying to get him to get her pregnant.

“Oh, hell no,” protested Beta. He lunged at Alpha. They fought. Alpha managed to look as if he were fighting when really what he was doing was forcing the incompetent Beta to get him into a three-quarter-nelson. “Uncle,” Alpha panted theatrically.

Beta looked surprised, then triumphant. Hottest Female Baboon handed him a cassava with a submissive grin. His stomach turned over. What had he done? Then Alpha winked at him. “No fair,” Beta cried. “He tricked me. I don’t want to be the alpha.”

“Tough shit, dude!” New Beta flipped New Alpha the bird. He’d seen photos of monkeys doing that and it really was funny. Then he went to take it easy. He hadn’t felt this good in a long time, and he had TiVoed an entire season of the new “Hawaii Five-0.” He loved that Scott Caan. That guy was cool. Oooh…and Grace Park! He felt a twinge in his haunches. Maybe he’d jerk off too. He’d kind of missed it.

Sarah Miller is the author of Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn and The Other Girl, which are for teens but adults can read on the beach. She lives in Nevada City, CA.

Photo by Derek Keats.