baboon (Papiocynocephalus anubis);
yellow baboon (Papio ynocephalus
||14 to 30
inches at the shoulder
||50 to 100
||20 to 30
The baboon, of all the primates in East Africa, most
frequently interacts with people. Apart from humans, baboons are
the most adaptable of the ground-dwelling primates and live in a
wide variety of habitats. Intelligent and crafty, they can be
agricultural pests, so they are treated as vermin rather than
The two most common baboons occur in East Africa, the olive
baboon and the yellow baboon. The larger and darker olive baboon
is found in Uganda, west and central Kenya and northern
Tanzania. Smaller, more slender and lighter in color, the yellow
baboon inhabits southern and coastal Kenya and Tanzania. Both
types are "dogfaced," but the yellow's nose turns up more than
Baboons are found in surprisingly varied habitats and are
extremely adaptable. The major requirements for any habitat
seems to be water sources and safe sleeping places in either
tall trees or on cliff faces. When water is readily available,
baboons drink every day or two, but they can survive for long
periods by licking the night dew from their fur.
Baboons usually leave their sleeping places around 7 or
8 a.m. After coming down from the cliffs or trees, adults sit in
small groups grooming each other while the juveniles play. They
then form a cohesive unit that moves off in a column of two or
three, walking until they begin feeding. Fanning out, they feed
as they move along, often traveling five or six miles a day.
They forage for about three hours in the morning, rest during
the heat of the day and then forage again in the afternoon
before returning to their sleeping places by about 6 p.m. Before
retiring, they spend more time in mutual grooming, a key way of
forming bonds among individuals as well as keeping the baboons
clean and free of external parasites.
Baboons sleep, travel, feed and socialize together in groups
of about 50 individuals, consisting of seven to eight males and
approximately twice as many females plus their young. These
family units of females, juveniles and infants form the stable
core of a troop, with a ranking system that elevates certain
females as leaders. A troop's home range is well-defined but
does not appear to have territorial borders. It often overlaps
with the range of other baboons, but the troops seem to avoid
meeting one another.
When they begin to mature, males leave their natal troops and
move in and out of other troops. Frequent fights break out to
determine dominance over access to females or meat. The ranking
of these males constantly changes during this period.
Males are accepted into new troops slowly, usually by
developing "friendships" with different females around the edge
of a troop. They often help to defend a female and her
Baboons are opportunistic omnivores and selective feeders that
carefully choose their food. Grass makes up a large part of
their diet, along with berries, seeds, pods, blossoms, leaves,
roots, bark and sap from a variety of plants. Baboons also eat
insects and small quantities of meat, such as fish, shellfish,
hares, birds, vervet monkeys and young, small antelopes.
Caring for the Young
For the first month, an infant baboon stays in very close
contact with its mother. The mother carries the infant next to
her stomach as she travels, holding it with one hand. By the
time the young baboon is 5 to 6 weeks old it can ride on her
back, hanging on by all four limbs; in a few months it rides
jockey style, sitting upright. Between 4 and 6 months the young
baboon begins to spend most of its time with other juveniles.
The baboon's major predators are humans. Knowing that humans can
easily kill or injure them when they are in trees, baboons
usually escape through undergrowth. Males may confront other
predators like leopards or cheetahs by forming a line and
strutting in a threatening manner while baring their large
canines and screaming. Baboons are fierce fighters, but a
demonstration such as this can put the predator on the run.
Did you know?
- Nearly one-half the size of adult males, females lack the
male's ruff (long hairs around the neck), but otherwise they
are similar in appearance.
- Baboons use over 30 vocalizations ranging from grunts to
barks to screams. Nonvocal gestures include yawns, lip
smacking and shoulder shrugging.