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The baboon

26 September 2013

QUICK FACTS

Scientific Name : Papio hamadryas

Weight (Male) : +/- 44kg

Weight (Female) : +/- 21kg

Troop size : Up to 130 individuals

Range sizes : As large as 34 km2

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The baboon Papio hamadryas was first described as Simia hamadryas by Linnaeus in 1758 based on a specimen from Egypt. For many years the chacma baboon of South Africa was considered to be a separate species until genetic evidence showed that it was similar to the Hamadryas baboon. The generic name Papio was created in 1777 by Erxleben because the genus Simia was also used to describe unrelated primates. The name chacma baboon is of French origin. This former subspecies Papio hamadryas ursinus was first described from the Cape of Good Hope by Kerr in 1792.

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Baboons occur widely in South Africa and are only locally absent in parts of the Nama-Karoo and Succulent Karoo biomes. Outside South Africa they occur up to northern Africa, being absent from the extreme western and eastern-coastal areas of Africa.

They are gregarious and form troops of up to 130 individuals which include several large males and have range sizes that increase with troop size and can be as large as 34 km2. Where water is scarce, as in the Kuiseb River Valley of the Namib Desert, troops may meet at waterholes. However, the one troop will wait patiently some distance from the waterhole until the one at the waterhole leaves. Male baboons sometimes form coalitions to defend their troop against predators such as leopards which they may kill on rare occasions. When danger threatens, the dominant males will form a line of defence ahead of the troop while the other males move to the rear of the troop. Visual and auditory signals are used to retain contact among troop members and the dominant males give a characteristic alarm bark when danger is detected.

www.leopard.tvThe baboon is a large, gregarious primate with the adult males being much larger at 44 kg than the females at 21 kg but the body weight varies regionally. The large muzzle of a male is a conspicuous feature and contains large canine teeth that are dangerous weapons. The colouration varies regionally and even within regions and troops based on age and sex. Some people say that the baboons of mountainous areas are much more black than the more grey baboons of the plains. This may be due to diet and the environment. The older animals have a grizzled grey appearance because the body hairs have white tips. The long tail, which is as long as the distance from the snout to the base of the tail, is usually carried with the last third curled upward. The limbs are long and the hind foot is about twice as long as the forefoot. The ischial callosities are raised epidermal skin and are divided by a large gap in the females while the two halves are fused just below the anus in the males. There are 32 permanent teeth.

Early in the morning, baboons move from their resting sites in tall trees or on high cliffs to feed, but they stop feeding by the early afternoon to socialize. A troop  may use the same sleeping site repeatedly or alternate them. Mutual grooming is an important social activity and it helps to rid baboons of ectoparasites such as ticks. In diet, baboons are omnivores that eat plant and animal material, including birds and impala lambs. The diet mainly includes flowers, fruits, leaves and invertebrates. Baboons are dependent on water, but in the Namib Desert they may survive on the moisture that forms from the dense coastal fog on plants or by eating plants that are rich in moisture.

www.leopard.tvPuberty occurs when a baboon is four to six years old. The onset of oestrus is signalled by a scarlet swelling of the skin of the ischial callosities which reaches its maximum on the day of ovulation. It takes 16 days after ovulation to return to normal. When lactating, this swelling and colouration disappears and prevents attempts at mating. The dominant male does most of the mating. There is no seasonal mating and young are born throughout the year. However, in the Drakensberg with its cold winters most of the young are born in September. The gestation period is six months. There is a close bond between a female and her young while twins are unknown. In a rapidly growing population a female will give birth every 19 months or so but in mountainous regions this only happens every 38 months or so. Young baboons chase each other and play most of the day. The age of a young baboon up to seven months can de determined by the colour of the snout and ears which changes progressively from black to grey. A baboon grows physically until the age of eight years.

 

References:

Groves, P C 2005. Order Primates. In D E Wilson and D M Reeder (Eds), Mammal species of the world, third edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp 166 - 167.

Skinner, J D and C T Chimimba (Eds) 2005. The mammals of the southern African subregion, third edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 218 - 224.

article by: Prof J du P Bothma

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