The chacma baboon is a very dynamic, adaptable and successful animal in the bushveld. They live in troops of all different ages and sizes; the troop is usually led by one or a small group of dominant males. The troop size can be anywhere from four to two hundred individuals! So, just like a pack of wild dogs or a pride of lions, baboons clearly need each other to survive. One important benefit of being part of such a big group is that each individual is surrounded by many eyes, ears and noses, all of which are well equipped for detecting danger. One sense that is especially well developed in baboons is their eyesight.
Baboons are often first to spot a predator in the area. For one, they have the ability to climb to the canopies of trees and sit there as lookouts for the rest of the troop; watch duty is usually performed by the males. Without getting into the science of their vision just yet, all it takes is to be there watching them as they alarm call at a threat like a lion or leopard walking extremely far away. I have been sitting in my vehicle watching baboons in a tree as they alarm at a leopard hundreds of meters away, further than we could certainly see… I knew this because other guides and guests were watching that leopard!
When a baboon sees a predator it lets out a loud, distinctive bark. They are intelligent animals and usually alarm call when a ‘real’ threat is around. Impalas, among others, are sometimes spooked by a warthog or a solitary duiker moving through the bush and alarm call as if it were a predator. Baboons, however, are one of the more reliable helpers when tracking the large cats!
Baboons have colour vision. Most mammals are dichromats, which means they have two types of functioning colour receptors – or cone cells – in their eyes. Primates are trichromatic, meaning that they possess three channels for conveying colour information. Baboons therefore see a wider variety of colours than most other mammals do. They need this vision to source the ripened fruits on a tree and to notice the pink colour of the rump of a female who is ready to mate. Humans are also trichromatic and see colour like the baboons (which I hope you’ve noticed!).
As I mentioned earlier, baboon troops will often have watchmen or sentries to look out for danger while the others are foraging. These lookouts will position themselves high up in the branches of a tree, on a termite mound or on any other structure available to them. When danger is spotted, the alarm is sounded and the others are alerted to the presence thereof. The troop may scatter and seek refuge in a tall tree. Once the predator’s cover is blown it will most likely move on without trying to hunt in that area, leaving the baboons safe yet again.
Baboons are incredibly resourceful and vigilant; they are a successful species in the bush and are very interesting to watch. They are also highly protective over each other and stick together in a tight-knit troop. If a leopard attacks a member of the troop, the rest of the group can be ferocious in their defence and attack or even sometimes kill the leopard in response.
There is a bit of a love-hate relationship with baboons at Londolozi, as they are naughty creatures, never passing up the opportunity for a free meal and often passing through the camps in an attempt to see what’s available on the buffet. We regularly have to chase them away, so over time they have become wary of humans. It can therefore be tricky to get a really great sighting of them from close up, since they will tend to move to what they consider a safe distance if we look like approaching them in the Land Rover.
Filed under Wildlife
I love baboons, can watch a troop for hours. They are always busy, doing something. Interesting information Bruce.
And also no slouches when it comes to spying human food to pinch!
Things I’ve had stolen from baboons, no matter how vigilant I was:
packets of nuts and fruit
even stuff that’s not edible
and the funniest, a baboon at Mana Pools who sat on the bonnet of my Land Rover and twanged the radio aerial until it broke off. Since then I just have to sing if I want music…
There’s an intelligence in their eyes that has always attracted me. But they are naughty, too, tossing the pads off the chaises on our deck and running up and down the trees, deck, etc. I love to watch them!
That baboons are”naughty” is right! When we stayed at the Vic Falls hotel, we were warned to lock out terrace doors when leaving because the baboons know how to open doors, and also know there are sugar packets near the coffee maker. One day we forgot to lock the doors when leaving for a few minutes, and upon returning within 10 minutes we discovered the doors wide open and the little burglars sitting on the terrace ripping open and eating the contents of the sugar packets. The baboons touched nothing else in the room.
I love Baboons…… They are so clever!! I have been at the babooncentre and helped a bit, abt 15 yrs ago……..
Again I’m amazed. The first time was when I learned that Londolozi had ostriches and now baboons!! Bruce your blog was not only well written, but very informative. I learned a lot. Rather than recant every detail I will tell you just a few of my surprises…..a “troop” can get go from a lowly 4 all the way to 200! Has Londolozi ever measured the baboon numbers in the reserve? From the curved tail for a baby perch to the pink rump, the females are quite noticeable and busy. I love their loyalty and intellect….being naughty and sneaky made me laugh! Great visual.
Guess not everyone’s favourite but have to admire their “cleverness”! Some excellent photos Bruce, particularly the two close-up expressive mug shots.
We had an incredible baboon family sighting . Mother and Father clutching baby, looking away at another vehicle while the baby stared wide-eyed at us. One of the best images I’ve ever captured.
Nice, informative piece Bruce with great pics. Thank you. A recent run in with a big male at De Hoop has not made me like them any better but they have certainly provided many laughs over the years….. and lots of good stories.
The eyes of a baboon, like a gorilla, are like a window to their soul. Sometimes woeful, but often inquisitive or cheeky, to sit and watch baboons is a front seat at the theatre. I’ve been “babooned “ once, losing my freshly baked, still warm roll to the mischievous youngster.
It seems they don’t like to be in water as I watched a troop of them leap across a body of water rather than walk through it, including moms with babies clinging to their backs. Amazing!!
Thanks for such an informative article.
Bruce, Thanks for all of the close-up shots! We never seem to get close enough to see those pircing eyes!
They really do have incredible eyesight. Though with the ones down here, we worry more about their intelligence s they work out how to get our cars and front doors open!
But I still love them all the same!