A recent trip to the Jane Goodall Chimpanzee sanctuary in Nelspuit was the inspiration for this post; it got me thinking a lot about primates over the last few days.
The sanctuary in Nelspruit is home to three different families of Chimpanzees that have all been rescued from their abusive backgrounds by the Jane Goodall Institute. The oldest Chimpanzee in the sanctuary is around 74 years old which is even old for a captive individual! However, the piece of information that I found most incredible was how the Chimpanzee is considered to be the closest relative to humans, sharing 96% of our DNA.
Chimpanzees are not found naturally in Southern Africa but we do have the Chacma Baboon which we find here at Londolozi. It’s quite ironic that it took a trip away from the reserve for me to start thinking a little bit more in-depth about an animal that I see running and climbing trees around the reserve here on a daily basis. Anyway, I’m pleased that it did bring about a renewed interest in them because baboons really are remarkably clever creatures that never cease to provide constant amusement and intrigue for those lucky enough to observe them. It also inspired me to do a little bit more research on them…
Ape or Monkey? Some people argue that baboons should be classified as an Ape but science has classified them as monkeys for a variety of reasons. Apes tend to have larger brains and lack tails like most monkeys. Ape species such as chimpanzees and gorillas are much closer to humans in evolutionary and genetic terms. However, having said that, baboons still share as much as 91% of our DNA with us.
Species: There are five different species of Baboon in Africa. (Chacma, Olive, Yellow, Guinea and Hamadryas) The Chacma Baboon is the species that we see here in Southern Africa.
Size: Baboons are the world’s largest monkey with an adult baboon weighing in the region of 33-82 lbs (22-37kgs)
Habitat: The Chacma, Olive, Yellow and Guinea Baboons are all found in the savannas of Africa whilst the Hamadryas Baboon lives in the hills along the Red Sea right at the tip of North Africa. Unlike other monkeys, baboons spend most of their day on the ground. They will move into trees to sleep at night or to keep watch and also to find food.
Social Structure: Baboons live in troops which can vary in size from anywhere between a few dozen to a few hundred. On Londolozi, the average size of the troops will be between 30 and 50 individuals. There will be a dominant or alpha male that runs the troop and the rank between males is often determined by size and age. Troops will move around together during the day and roost in trees together at night. Troop members will also groom and protect one another.
Diet: Baboons are omnivores and so their diet consists of a wide array of plants and meats. Typically we witness the Chacma baboon foraging for a lot of plant material such as shoots, bulbs, grasses, seeds and fruit. They do occasionally hunt the young of antelopes such as Nyala, Impala and Duiker, although not often. They have also been cases of baboons eating vervet monkeys. A variety of insects will also be consumed.
Mating and Offspring: When a female baboon is ready to mate her bottom becomes incredibly swollen and red which is a sign of readiness to the male. It is not particularly attractive to look at and can be mistaken as an injury. They will typically only give birth to one infant at a time after a gestation period of six months. Infants will only drink their mother’s milk until they start weaning at 3-4 months old. Just before they reach 2 years old they become a juvenile and will grow one pound every three months. They reach maturity at around 6-8 years.
Threats: Lions, leopards and hyenas would all prey on baboons if they were able to catch them. Leopards probably pose the biggest threat, as they are very adept climbers as well. However, A troop of baboons can be an intimidating sight and their strength in numbers may be their best weapon. Eagles can also pose a threat to young baboons left unattended.
For me a trip to the bush would not be the same without seeing a troop of baboons. It is incredibly interesting and amusing to spend some time observing them play and interacting with one another. Part of the allure is that a lot of their actions really are very human-like. Watching a female baboon try and get her petulant infant to suckle as it throws a tantrum and then gets disciplined is very reminiscent of a human mother with a difficult child. Then you witness a group of juvenile baboons run around together with their curious minds testing the patience of the adults and realize what a strong resemblance they bear to naughty, rebellious teenagers pushing the limits with their own parents. As I write this I look up and see a troop of baboons making their way past my window on their daily forage and am reminded of my own big extended family and it brings a smile to my face as I think about what look they will have on their face as they read this and realize that I just compared them to baboons. In my opinion, it’s definitely a compliment!