Baboons are often overlooked by the experienced safari goer. Their antics and tendency for theft around humans have given them a bad reputation, and many people regard them as pests. However, if you take the time to observe baboons in their natural environment, you might just see another side to them.
I enjoy watching baboons – their social interactions are interesting, their hierarchy complex, and watching the youngsters play is nothing short of adorable.
The social structure of a baboon troop is usually made up of a group of dominant males, females and their young. This type of structure where males outrank females, is known as an oligarchy. There are separate dominance hierarchies for male and female baboons. However, when a female is in oestrus all of the dominant males will mate with her and all take up the important responsibility of playing dad. Daughters of dominant females inherit their mother’s rank, so even an infant of a highly ranked female will outrank an older subordinate female. If you spend time with a troop of baboons, you will soon notice these class distinctions. Lesser ranked individuals are often seen grooming more dominant baboons.
The gestation period for baboons is about six months and, although they give birth throughout the year, there tends to be a birthing peak in the summer. Baboon infants are a pleasure to observe. They enjoy exploring, annoying their parents and often making a fool of themselves. I was recently fortunate to spend some time with a troop that allowed me to get quite close to them without disturbing their behaviour.
It was pushing 40ºC and, very sensibly, the majority of the troop slept peacefully in the shade. Despite the docile atmosphere in the heat of the afternoon, there was one very young baboon, complete with pink nose and ears, which was full of life! His mother, presumably a highly ranked female, was attempting to relax and was being groomed by a younger female.
The infant ran this way and that, and he then tried to amuse himself with a stick.
The afternoon heat of the day got the better of the mother and she attempted to take a little nap. Meanwhile, her youngster explored a rock.
And when this, too, proved not exciting enough, he proceeded to jump on his sleeping mother.
She tactfully ignored him, and within a few minutes he fell fast asleep snuggling against her.
This lasted all of five minutes and then he began annoying her and demanding food. The mother baboon did nothing more than roll over, exposing her teat fully by holding her arm high in the air and attempted to continue with her nap.
At this I left the two in peace and hoped for the mother’s sake that she and her youngster would have a proper siesta after his feed.