Baboons are fascinating to watch and on many occasions they have provided a highlight during game drives. I have often wondered at our fascination with their behavior and have come to the conclusion that it is a deep seated reminder of the innocence we as a developing species have lost.
There are many traits in baboon behavior that are very similar to ours; it is in these similarities that we find amusement (or is it maybe embarrassment?) as they make us reflect on our own nature as a species.
Flirting and self gratification
The baboon trait that mostly resembles human behaviour lies in their sexual habits. I have observed females flirting with males, males making moves on females in all stages of oestrus, males becoming aroused when females are grooming them and, on a number of occasions, masturbation. Although I have seen a number of species’ males self-gratify, it’s in baboons that this is most noticeable.
Baboon booty call
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.
She backed a little closer until he casually stuck out his arm and inserted his finger in her swelling nether regions.
Grooming is and important part of the baboon social interaction and it is often used to calm a volatile situation. Although the grooming involves picking parasites and scabs off each others bodies the act provides a great deal of pleasure to the recipients. On many occasions this pleasure manifests in sexual stimulation and baboon males often get an erection during the grooming process.
Signs of readiness
Males are stimulated by the sight of a female with a swollen backside and will attempt to mount the female if higher ranking males are not in the vicinity. At the height of the females’ cycle the dominant male will keep all others away from her. This may seem a very casual sexual behaviour but it is orchestrated to allow the strongest genes to survive.
Sexual self-gratification is not something that is associated with animals (except for humans) but I have observed it a number of times, the majority of times in baboons.