Did a Baboon Work as a Railroad Signalman?

Elmira | 10 - 29 - 2020
Baboon as a railroad signalman

In 1881, Jack the Baboon became a signalman for the local railroad in South Africa. He was an assistant to a disabled railway signalman. He was also called a Chacma baboon, his real story was published in Nature, the scientific journal, in the 1890 July issue.


Jack Assistant Signalman

How Long Has Jack Worked as an Assistant Signalman?
  • A. 5 Years
  • B. 10 Years
  • C. 12 Years
  • D. 9 Years


Jack’s owner was James Wide who had been working as a railwayman. In1887, he met with an accident and lost his legs, and was unable to continue his job. There was a ray of hope, he got an alternative position as a signalman and joined the job at the Uitenhage Station in South Africa.


After joining the new job, James saw a baboon working with a team of oxen wagon drivers. Baboon was helping him get around on a trolley.


Baboon soon became a special worker. He was in charge of keeping the gardens and also managed keys from the coal yard. James started to train Jack to operate the signals. Surprisingly over time, Jack learned by himself to say which train was approaching and also knew when levers needed to be pushed for the train. Jumper and Jack lived together in the Cottage which is located a half-mile away from the railroad.


Railway superintendent George B. Howe wrote about baboons when he visited the Baboon sometime around 1890. “Jack knows the signal whistle as well as I do, also every one of the levers.” Further added, “It was very touching to see his fondness for his master. As I drew near they were both sitting on the trolley. The baboon’s arms round his master’s neck, the other stroking Wide’s face.”


How Long Has Jack Worked as an Assistant Signalman?


Reportedly Jack received an official employment number and was paid 20 cents a day and also got half a bottle of beer weekly. In 1890, Jack passed away due to tuberculosis. He worked on the railway for nine years without making any mistake and proved animals can do their work perfectly.

He became a famous local celebrity and people visited him from around Cape Town to watch how the baboon operated the tracks.

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