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 one 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 (right), 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.
The Minneola is a tangerine-grapefruit hybrid citrus fruit. The peel is orange to red, smooth but covered with pores. The otherwise spherical fruit has a hump like a little nose at the stem base. The pulp is soft and fleshy, very juicy and aromatic. It has few or no seeds.
"We were lucky that the baboons' acute sense of smell led them to this particular tree. 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.
The farmers then set about grafting some shoots of this tree onto standard root stock and passed it on the Citrus Growers Association (CGA) at Uitenhage where the trees are now being multiplied in greenhouse tunnels.
"This process takes two years and as soon as we get the clearance from the CGA the trees will then be tested in real orchards all over the country for a period of four years before it is officially registered," van der Merwe said.
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.
International Cable Network News,"Baboons sniff out a better orange", accessed January 13, 2011
Mail & Guardian Online, "Baboons discover new citrus cultivar in Western Cape", accessed January 13, 2011