Want to find the sweetest citrus in the orchard? Ask a baboon.
A group of baboons in South Africa is being credited with sniffing out a new, sweeter variety of orange.
Alwyn van der Merwe, production director of ALG Estates near Citrusdal, South Africa, said the farm noticed that baboons that come down to the farm from nearby mountains each year always went to feed from a particular tree among the thousands in the orchards. The animals stripped the tree clean of fruit well before others in the orchard were in season, he said.
"At closer inspection we discovered that the brix [sweetness grade] of this particular minneola, a soft citrus variety, was much higher than the rest of the orchard and that it started bearing fruit at least three weeks earlier than expected," van der Merwe said, according to a report in the Mail & Guardian newspaper.
" It was clearly a case of a spontaneous mutation in the orchard, which would have gone unnoticed were it not for the baboons,” van der Merwe is quoted as saying.
Growers have begun grafting shoots from the baboon’s favorite tree onto other root stock and hope to be producing large quantities of the sweeter minneola in a few years.
And he knows the baboons will likely be the first customers.
"I'm sure they will have a feast one day when we produce a whole orchard of these early sweet minneolas," he said.