Scientific Name: Papio ursinius
Four sub-species of baboons occur in Africa
There are four subspecies of baboon. they occurr south of the Sahara from west Africa across to the Horn of Africa and down through east and southern Africa.
The four subspecies are:
P.c. anubis – Olive baboon from west and east Africa
P.c. cynocephalus – Yellow baboon of east Africa and theHorn
P.c. ursinus – Chacma baboon of southern Africa
P.c. papio – Guinea baboon of west Africa
A strong social structure within groups ranging in size from less that ten too more than one hundred. Groups lead by a dominant male who controls all aspects of the troop even meeting out punishment in the form of pinching or hair pulling.
The body colouring of the subspecies shows a range of shades from the grey-brown of the chacma baboon through to the yellow of the yellow baboon, and olive-green of the olive baboon.
A wide range of habitats but more common in the savanna regions of the continent.
Omnivorous. Baboons eat a wide range of foods from fruit and seeds to meat. They will kill birds and the young of antelope such as impala. Baboons have been observed eating their own young in times of drought. There is a debate as to whether this is to ensure more food for the others or because they see the young as food.
Baboons breed year round with seasonal peaks in some areas. Females swell around the backside when they are in estrous. While they are swelling, females may be mounted by many males. Howeverm, when females are in full estrus only the dominant male will mate with them, thus ensuring the strongest genes. A single young is born after a six month gestation period.
Baboon’s acting very much like humans
Showing very human-like behaviour an adult plays peekaboo with a baby.
Other Baboons in a troop play with the young
Other baboons in the troop spend a great deal of time playing with the babies whilst watched over by the mother.
Why is it that watching baboons interact is so appealing to us? Are their behavioural traits so uniquely fascinating that we can sit for hours watching them cavort? Is it because they are so similar to us in what they do that it is as if we are watching ourselves from a distance?
Many guides have had times when they have been hard-pressed to satisfy demanding guests on a game drive. Nothing is good enough. Until the baboons enter the picture! It never fails to amaze how caught up we become in the behaviour of a species so similar to us. It is as if we are laughing at a mirror image of ourselves from our not too distant past, or we are embarrassed by our behaviour we see so graphically portrayed in the natural state.
Baboons have a number of sounds that they use to communicate from the charachteristic ‘bogom’ shout to grunts and groans when they are feeding and mating.
Baboons and impala
Baboons and impala generally have a symbiotic relationship, always seen moving together on the plains, but there is a time when this relationship seems non-existent. At the time of the impala birthing the baboons will often kill and eat the young impala lambs. This is usually done by the adult males and will seldom share the kill with other baboons.
Females swell around the back side when they are in estrous. In this state they are mounted by any male that has the urge at the time. These males will be chased away by a dominant male when he is close by. Flirty females are sometimes noticed in a troop.
One very cold winter’s morning in the Okavango Delta, I observed the flirty behaviour of a particular female in a troop. The female began her frisky morning by flirting with the troop’s dominant male who was seated and minding his own business while he watched over the floodplain. When the alpha male showed no interest in her she moved on to other males.
The female systematically went from male to male sticking her not-yet-fully-swollen back side in their faces; the males,in turn, showed no interest in her.
After unsuccessfully garnering any interest from various males, the female resumed flirting with the dominant male. Again he showed little interest. The female backed a little closer, finally receiving some attention, as the male casually stuck out his arm and inserted his finger into her swelling nether regions. She squealed in shock and turned to stare at him before she ran off. The male baboon simply resumed his pondering.
Reaction to aggression
During a dispute between two males the weaker male will often grab the nearest baby and hold it close. The other male will usually back off. There are some theories as to why this is done.
It may be that the baby is the offspring of the dominant male and he does not want to hurt it or that the act is a show compassion that will allow the stronger male to back off. As baboons are very sociable creatures the show of compassion will pass on to the aggressor.
Baboons and snakes
Baboons have a great fear of snakes. In the rocky areas of Africa they are known to feed on scorpions and insects that they find under rocks. They will lift up a rock very gently, look underneath carefully, before tipping it over and eating whatever they find.
It is a known fact that they lift the rock carefully in case of a snake lying under the rock. If there is a snake under the rock they will drop it immediately and sound an alarm.
There are legends of farmers in the crop growing areas catching baboons in cages and instead of killing them tying riempies (leather strips) to the baboons leg and setting it free. The baboon thinks that the riempie is a snake and runs off in fear, with the snake close behind.
When the baboon finds the rest of the troop they will run off in fear of the snake. As fast as they run the snake will keep up. It is told that the baboons never return to the snake farm.
A baby Baboon with its mother
Baboon babies will only venture short distances from their mothers when they are still very young.
Baboons grooming each other
Grooming plays a large part in baboon society and is often used to diffuse tense situations.
Baboons hiding up in a tree
When sensing danger baboons will attempt to hide as they move away as these two climbing down a palm tree.
Baboon eating a young impala