The saying that, “a monkey could do my job” never made more factual sense to any man than it did to one James Wilde. Wilde was a signalman in South Africa’s Uitenhage Station and owned a baboon for a pet. This is one of the very touching stories in which a man and an animal became best friends that I ever read. So, today, let us ease things up a bit and appreciate Jack, the chacma baboon who served as a signalman for 9 years on his human best friend’s behalf.
New and Unique
Jack’s intriguing ministry started in 1877 after his master, James Wilde, lost the use of his legs in a tragic accident. Before the accident, Wilde was an employee of the Cape Government, working as a guard. He was a pro at jumping onto or between moving trains that he came to be known as the “Jumper.” This prowess of his is what led to his great loss: he had his feet amputated at the knees after an 80-ton train crushed them. After his wounds had healed, Wilde was offered a job as a signalman because he could work from his chair. He made himself a trolley that he could travel on to and from work, but his work was still too tedious. His problems ceased when he met a man who had trained his baboon pet to lead an oxen cart. The owner sold the baboon to Wilde. The baboon would obey any commands if he received a tot of good Cape brandy every night. If he did not, he would sulk and become disobedient.
Fame and Attention
Wilde named his new pet Jack and trained him to push his trolley. The trolley allowed Wilde to travel on the railway tracks. During the training, Jack displayed so much intelligence such as delivering a key to the train drivers when they hooted four times. This was initially Wilde’s duty. Wilde soon allowed Jack to perform this duty fulltime as long as the whistle tooted four times. Jack later learned to switch levers to control the section of a track and make trains pass on them. He did this by learning the audio cues associated with the order of the tracks. His opposable thumbs made him do these tasks just as a human being. When he was not sitting with Wilde or delivering the keys to the drivers, he was switching the levers to control the movement of the wagons.
At one time, Wilde and Jack were fired because some people were not okay with a baboon determining their safety. Wilde, however, begged the employers to subject Jack to a test. Jack was offered a complex test of switching the levers according to intermixed audio signals. Jack passed so perfectly that they were both back in employment. Jack even became an official employee and was offered a salary of 20 cents every day, a bottle of beer every Saturday and daily rations.