Facts and Information
The African Baboon is a primate that forms a part of the genus Papio which is one of the genus of the Old-World Monkeys. There are known to be five common species of African Baboon that are found throughout Africa, these are colloquially and scientifically known as the: olive baboon (Papio Anubis), yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus), Guinea baboon (Papio papio), hamadryas baboon (Papio hamadryas), chacma baboon (Papio ursinus) Each of these five species also have three sub-species.
The African Baboon lives a fairly long life. It can live up to 30 years old when in their natural habitat, and 45 years if they are captivity.
The African Baboon species have some common physical attributes; however, they differ largely when it comes to size, colour and weight. The males and females differ in size and canine development which is a very interesting differing physical attribute.
All African baboons are covered in thick fur except on their long muzzles and tails. They also have canine teeth that are sharp and eyes that constantly look closed. One will notice that they have hairless pads of skin on their buttocks, these are called ischial callosities which are known to provide them with comfort when they are sitting. All of the African baboon species have manes except for the chacma baboon.
The chacma baboon is without a doubt the biggest of the African baboon species. In fact, it has been recorded that it is the biggest monkey within the Old-World Monkey family. The most distinct features are its long, downward sloping face and a rough patch of hair on the back of its neck. It is generally a dark brown to grey colour, depending on the sub-species. The male body length is between 90cm to 150 cm and they usually weigh between 21kgs and 45 kgs. The females are slightly smaller, reaching an approximate maximum body length of 100 cm while weighing between 12kgs to 25 kgs.
The yellow baboon is very similar to the chacma baboon. The distinguishing features are seen through their black hairless faces that are framed by white sideburns. They are also known to have longer tails which are nearly as long as their bodies. The male can reach up to 84 to 100cm in length and the female is slightly smaller reaching approximately 60cm. The male can weigh around 25kgs, while the female can weigh around 11kgs.
The olive species is also known as the Anubis baboon. The common name for this baboon comes from its green-grey coat colour. Another distinguishing feature is the hair on its face which can range from dark grey to black, depending on the species. They are similar to their chacma baboon family member in size. The head-and-body length for the olive monkey is between 50cm to 115cm, while males are typically weighing 24kg to 50kg and the females average around 14kgs.
The hamadryas has a red or tan or dark brown face, depending on the sub-species. The male hamadryas baboon is identified by its silver-white coloured mane and mantle (also known as a cape). The female hamadryas does not have this distinguishing feature. The males have a body length of between approximately 70 cm and up to 80cm and can weigh between 20kgs and 30kgs, while the smaller females weigh between 10kgs and 15kgs with a body length of between 40cm – 45cm.
The smallest African baboon would be the Guinea baboon. The male and females are similar in weight and length, reaching a maximum length of 50 cm in length and weighing between 13kgs and 26kgs. They are also known as the red baboon for the red colour of their fur.
Habitat and distribution
The African baboon is usually found in open savannahs, woodlands, dry forests, sub-deserts and hills of the African continent.
They are each distinct to areas and countries around the continent. The chacma baboon is common to the southern Africa region and is found in South Africa, Angola, Mozambique and Zambia. The yellow baboon is located in the eastern parts of Africa in countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Botswana.
The olive baboon is the more commonly spread out African baboon. It is found in at least 25 countries throughout Equatorial Africa in countries like Mali, Ethiopia, Gabon and Uganda. The hamadryas finds its home in the Eritrea Red sea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti. The Guinea baboon, as the name suggests, is found in Guinea. It has also been classified as belonging to countries such as Senegal, Southern Mauritania, Western Mali and Gambia.
The African baboon is an omnivorous primate. Its primary sources of food are insects, fish, hare, grass, seeds, berries, earthworms, vervet monkeys, small impalas, lizards, small antelopes and birds.
Mating and breeding behaviour
Mating is often done according to the male’s social ranking within the troop. Depending on where they sit in the social structure, they can choose any female to mate with – this usually leads to fights amongst the male baboons. The female is, however, the initiator of the mating process. When a female is ready to mate, she presents her red, swollen rump to the male’s face as an indicator. Interestingly, the female is able to reproduce when she is old.
The usual gestation period is usually six months, with only one infant being born. At birth, the infant is a small 400g-1kg and has a black epidermis (this is the outermost part that makes up the skin that protects from things like infection). The mother is the main caretaker of the infant, who is often seen hanging onto the chest hair of the mother. The baby baboon is usually weaned off after a year. They reach sexual maturity between the ages of five and eight.
The African baboons are found troops of between 5 to 300 baboons; however, the common number is usually approximately 50 baboons. The number varies according to the species of African baboon and the time of the year. The females usually stay in their birth troops their entire lives while the males choose to leave their group once they have reached the age of sexual maturity. Females only move groups when they have been recruited by other troops. Studies have identified two different forms of social structures amongst the baboons, the common feature of the structures is the hierarchical nature. The hamadryas baboons have a harem structure. This is characterised by a group of females sharing one male. This grouping may also have a subordinate or younger male. This often means that the larger group is comprised of smaller groups of this harem structure. The males in this structure are traditionally very protective of the females of their groups to the extent that they will grab and bite females who move far from the group. The males are also known to raid over groups for females. The other structure is known as the matriline hierarchy structure which is found within the other remaining species. The troops are composed of multiple small groups that are made of multiple females and multiple males. They can move into the harem social structure, but only occasionally. The females are ranked according to the position that they have inherited through their mother while the male’s ranking changes based on age and size.
African baboons are often active during the day but can also be active at irregular times at night. They are usually found on the ground during the day, this makes them terrestrial animals. They prefer to sleep in trees or on hills and cliffs. Trees are also used too by the younger baboons to play with each other or used by all to escape predators. The African baboon is also a very communicative animal, their communication ranges from body attitudes, facial expressions, touching and vocalization. They are able to use vocal exchanges to gauge the levels of dominance between each baboon.
The baboon is very aggressive and confrontational within their families when they want to challenge a ranking or when fighting with another troop. These fights can have an impact on the whole troop or troops of the baboons involved. An indicator of a fight is seen through their visual threats. The visual threat is seen through eyelids that are flashing quickly and a large yawn to show the teeth. Fighting also occurs within the harem social structures where the male will fight in order to take another female, this practice is referred to by studies as a ‘takeover’. During fighting baby baboons can also be taken as hostages.
An unfamiliar social behaviour aspect of the baboon is that males and females do not form relationships with other baboons of the same sex. Rather, friendships are formed with the opposite sex. The male will groom the female, get her food, protect her from fights and help her in taking care of her infants. The relationship can also lead to offspring.
- There are close to 30 distinct vocalizations that are used by African baboons, these include: the “cough geck” which is used when they see unfamiliar humans or low-flying animals (like birds); “screams” which is made when they feel strong emotion; the “wa-hoo” which is made when they either respond to predators or neighbouring troops, or when they find themselves in stressful positions.
- The African baboon is able to acquire a skill known as orthographic processing, this skill forms part of the ability to read.
- Baboons have existed for approximately two million years.
- Infanticide is a common occurrence amongst the olive and chacma baboons. This is where the new dominant male will try to kill baboons that belong to the previously dominant male.
- The animal forms an important part of Egyptian art and tales.
- Studies have observed adoption behaviour amongst the African baboon, particularly with the chacma baboon. During this process, the adult female will sleep close to the orphaned infant, groom them, carry them around and protecting them from being harassed by other troop members.
- According to the Amboseli Baboon Research project, humans and the African baboon have a genetic similarity of 94%.
- The baboon is also known to raid dwellings and prey on animals like sheep and goat. This is a common occurrence in South Africa.