Uganda/4 … baboons

I know its a bit of a tease to start a post on baboons with an image of a leopard, but in much of East Africa these two species are paired as a result of their immense dislike for each other. Baboons would love to disrupt a leopards routine and do physical damage to the cat if they had the chance. The leopard feels the same way. On several occasions I have watched a well-hidden leopard wait along the path a troop of baboons uses to get to their night-time roost tree…and then grab a youngish baboon and run off with it. On other occasions I have seen a dead baboon in a tree, draped there as if to warn a troop that the leopard is ready willing and able to wreak havoc on the baboon troop. They dislike each other and relish the chance to do damage to the foe. The image is a bit off a reach perhaps but leopards always attract the eye…..

But this is more about the very social, ground-dwelling (for the most part), terrestrial primate we call the baboon; Olive baboon in Uganda and most of Kenya and Tanzania as well. There are five African baboon types; Sacred, Guinea, Olive, Chacma, and Yellow. In East Africa there are Olive and Yellow. In Uganda there is just the Olive Baboon. Males can weigh as much as 100 pounds and females just more than half that. This baboon species ranges from the Atlantic coast in the west to the Indian Ocean in the east. It is sub-saharan and quite common. In appropriate habitat they will depend on the seeds from grasses or perhaps fruits as the main part of their diet. They are omnivorous and will eat insects and grubs and hunt smallish mammals including young impala and gazelles.

Baboons form male-dominated troops that can contain 40 or more members. There are dominance layers within both genders and age cohorts; the young of higher ranking females will dominate other youngsters. Coalitions and associations form between males as well as with, and between, females. It can be as complex as a seventh grade social. Males have a cape of heavy longer hair while females are shorter-haired over all. The young are rough and tumble little gymnasts. Females sexually mature at about six years of age and have a young about every 24 months following a six month gestation. The baby is nursed for six months or so and stays with the mother until it is about two years old.

Olive Baboons form large troops. There are a few large males, quite a few females, and usually lots of youngsters. They look out for each other in a group sort of way and are typically rather casual and self-assured as they move about. Youngsters run and play without helicoptering parents. The males are fierce guardians of the troop and will move toward predators and sometimes attack to repel the threat.
Sometimes a baboon troop will consider the road to be theirs and almost demand that you pay a toll for using the highway. The Olive Baboon is much like any animal (including humans) as it will look for repetitive success and appreciates handouts and easy luxury. In this area there are people who will slow down or stop to throw food to the resident troop. As might be expected they get used to the attention and gifts and begin to expect them from passers by.
In this case a male baboon has climbed onto the hood/bonnet of our vehicle and is looking to see if we have any food on the dashboard. The windows were rolled up, there was no food available, and we were soon able to slowly drive ahead. This was a remote spot but a spot that seems to get enough tourist passage to keep this troop near the road and ready to share grub with travelers.
Females (on the right) are slimmer and lack the heavier cape of shoulder fur that males (young male on left) develop as they age. It is well known that primates groom each other. This body-maintenance helps remove parasites and pests but probably is more important in forming alliances, friendships, and relationships. Females groom males to gain a protective umbrella and youngsters groom everyone to become established and known within the troop.
Males are willing to be a part of the troop at all levels but they do establish a male/male hierarchy through battle. The females tend to do the parenting but males are often involved with youngsters as well. Young males can be a bit rough when playing with small baboons and are often the ones that get chased or chastised by the older females. The social structure depends on age, gender, and social history. Males will occasionally move to another troop where acceptance is not guaranteed and often requires the development of a relationship with a breeding female.
Baboons are often referred to a “dog-faced” and this profile shows why. They are also called “dog-shaped” as they have narrow bodies and a deep chest. They have a longish tail that has a “broken” hitch in it near the body. They do not use the tail when climbing trees except for balance.
The primates are divided into a few large groups; man and ape, monkeys, and cheek-pouch monkeys. There are also the more primitive, smaller, animals, called pro-simians which include the galagos or bushbaby and the lorises. These smaller types of arboreal animals have been classified as advanced insectivores and early primates. They are not very monkey-like in many ways.
Baboons are in the cheek-pouch group along with mangabeys and all the guenon (regular monkeys to most of us) types. Maybe in the next post…..
Baboons do climb well and will eat flowers, buds, nuts, and fruits while perched up in a tree. They also spend the overnight in trees away from the ground dwelling nocturnal predators like the leopard and run for trees when danger threatens.
One night the lodge our group was staying was overbooked and I had to walk well out into the bush to a workman’s house for the night. Walking at night was a risk so I headed out at dusk, only to find that the large tree looming over the dark and empty house I was to stay in was the night time home to about 60 baboons who were also walking along the same path that I was using. It was a bit disconcerting and they were noisy both coming and going.
Is here any doubt that animals can think, relate, compare, wonder, or perhaps plan? Looking into the eyes of a gorilla or chimpanzee or baboon certainly gives me pause. They are most definitely looking at me and assessing me I’m sure.
Nature is such a treat.

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