Savanna Baboons

It wouldn’t be the African savanna without baboons. This Old World monkey species completes the savanna landscapes with their spirited presence.

There are four baboon sub-species that fall under the “savanna” umbrella: chacma, olive, yellow, and Guinea. All baboons photographed here (pre-Covid) are either olive (Papio anubis) or yellow (Papio cynocephalus).

Baboon Wikipedia

A highly social primate, baboons are always in groups. Sometimes it’s just a family group of four or six individuals, other times it’s a large troop numbering 40 or more.

Savanna baboons have extensive social hierarchies; in fact, a baboon troop is one of the most complex societies in the animal kingdom. Their social relations in the hierarchy are influenced by: gender, inherited standing, male-female alliances, male-male alliances, emigration and immigration.

Coming around a bend in the road, we came across this large troop of olive baboons in northern Tanzania.

Grooming is a vital social activity that forms and strengthens bonds among family members, as well as building courtship bonds.

It also helps keep the ticks and fleas off one another’s bodies.

I like finding grooming baboons like these two below, because they’re always serene. Other times they are a typical monkey–on the move, jumping and climbing, the little ones getting into things. But when they’re grooming, they’re in their own quiet, relaxed world.

Baboons are often in the company of impala and kudu, where the different species can help alert each other to threatening predators. Baboon’s main predators are: leopards, lions, hyenas and crocodiles.

Here the impala are congregated under large sausage trees (Kigelia), and the baboons are scattered on and around the tree. If there is danger lurking, the baboons will be the first to call a warning to the whole group.

Baboons are omnivorous. They eat grasses, seeds, roots and other plant material as well as fruits, insects, rodents and small mammals.

This baboon is eating grass.

In addition to their terrestrial foraging events, they spend a lot of time in treetops where they are safe from most predators. This one below is gobbling the tree’s fruit.

They also sleep in trees.

Several times we were awakened at night by baboons. One large troop slept in the treetops over our tent and were sometimes threatened by the leopards who also occupied the treetops. When a leopard was sighted, the baboons would grunt and growl and call out to the others, waking their mates. Of course the baboons would always retreat, for leopards are the more ferocious of the two.

We also heard baboons every night in Meru National Park in central Kenya. Outside our safari tent was a small canvas basin on risers. It was filled with water for us to wash up. Every night the baboons came in to lap up our basin water. They stood on their hind legs and drank like dogs.

The vocalizations of baboons are many. They use calls for exhibiting aggression, alarming the troop, courting, and raising offspring.

Baboons are strikingly similar to humans.

This photo shows a shadow of us watching the baboon watch us.

Humans and baboons are both classified as Primates in the Mammalia Order. And both primate species are social animals, caring for our family and friends, finding ways to feed and protect ourselves.

Even without the scientific classifications, you just have to look into the eyes of a baboon to know they have a lot going on in their heads…just like us.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

67 thoughts on “Savanna Baboons

    • Yes, the baboons are predatory, too, you’re right, Craig. They kill and eat baby monkeys. Every animal in the African savanna has to fight. How many times I’ve watched the bee-eaters, bright and beautiful birds, slamming down a bee with such ferocity. Great to have you stop by, my friend, as always.

  1. Wow. I learned a lot about baboons, Jet. I confess that all I really knew before about baboons was from the limited exposure to baboons in movies. I especially like the penultimate photo that let us look into the eyes of a baboon. It is easy to see that we are related. 🙂

    • I’m really glad to have the privilege of sharing baboon info with you, Mike. There are so many beautiful and charismatic mammals on the savanna that baboons often get overlooked, but they are wonderful, too. I really like that photo looking into the eyes of the baboon a lot, too. Adult baboon faces have a shelf over their eyes that often blocks the light, but Athena pulled it off with the angle and the light. A great joy to have you stop by, thank you.

    • Wonderful to share the baboons with you, Deborah, they’re a lively animal and fascinatingly similar to humans. I’m happy you liked the photos. Leopards in trees are not easy to photograph because they’re so far away and usually the tree’s leaves get in the way; and seeing into the baboon’s eyes was also special. My warm thanks to you for your visit today.

    • Yes, you’re right, Mike, the canvas tents are not exactly the most sturdy and protective shelter. We didn’t sleep too much on those nights. But it sure was fun. Sending smiles you’re way, my friend.

  2. I had no idea they worked cooperatively with other animals to send our warning of predators. Good to have friends like that in the wild.
    Our main experience with baboons was on our cycling trip in South Africa. The guides had dealt with baboons jumping on to bicycles going slowly or stopping to take photos. We were under strict direction to never stop to take a photo of a baboon. Near the Cape of Good Hope park rangers are stationed along the side of the road to warn people about baboons and to attempt to keep baboons off the road. Unfortunately they have learned that humans and food often travel hand in hand.

    • That’s a very interesting story about baboons and your South African bike trip, Sue. They are smart animals, and yes, they have figured out how to get their needs easily met in that area. Too bad for the baboons, because ultimately they will be the ones to pay. Farmers all over Africa have a hard time with baboons, too, it is a problem when the baboon habitat shrinks and what was once their land is now human land. It’s not something anyone knows exactly how to fix, and it’s sad to witness. And in your case, I am sure it was quite terrifying, too. Thanks for sharing the baboon story, dear Sue, and I hope your weekend ahead is a happy one.

  3. Interesting! I couldn’t help imagining a troop of baboons sitting around after dinner chatting about the humans they’d seen driving by that day…

  4. Very interesting post, as always you know how to describe and offer some entertaining story to get to know animals.
    I thank you, personally because I could see my drinking buddies from college again. Or I might be mistaken, it happened so long ago…sorry. Thanks, my friend for being patient with me. 🙂

    • The idea of baboons and leopards overhead sounds more frightening than it is. We’re just not used to it in our human establishments, but out in the wilds of Africa, it is more in context, and really fun. I like that your writer’s imagination had you thinking about it, Jan, and I’m really glad you stopped by.

  5. The baboon photographs are really something, particularly the last one. I loved the description of various behaviours, and enjoyed hearing about you camping beneath baboon and leopard inhabited trees. Not too much sleep on those nights I imagine!
    Thanks, Jet!

    • It was great fun to share the baboon photographs and experiences with you, pc. It’s always fun to share with you because you’re an astute reader and always ready for a new experience. My thanks and smiles to you and Mrs. pc.

  6. Good info, Jet. I didn’t know there were several different species of baboon. I follow Liz Hardman’s South African blog https://natureontheedge.com and she often features troops around her area. Sadly, habitat loss is bringing them into close contact to humans, which as you know spells trouble for the animals. We know who wins in animal/human conflicts. 😦

    • Yes, you expressed it well about the wild animal and human conflict, and it is a challenging part of the expansion of our human population that we face today. Thanks for the link to Liz Hardman’s blog. That photo of the baboon making off with some pretty expensive bike gear is a memorable one. I’m glad you enjoyed the baboon post today, thanks so much, Eliza…always a pleasure.

    • Wonderful to receive your message today, Janet, what you picked out as some of your favorites are favorites of mine too. It was truly astounding when we came upon that large troop of olive baboons in the road. Nobody drives fast on safari–too much to see, don’t want to miss anything. So we were going slowly when we came around the bend to find the baboons. The troop was scattered all over the road, and they dispersed, but even they were not fast or frightened. A blissful African moment. Thanks for your interest, my friend.

  7. Wow really close up of the Leopard in the tree. I bet it was scary at night hearing and wondering where all the creatures were. I would worry about uninvited guests coming. Your sunset is a classic suitable for framing.

    • Yes, it was scary at first being out in the African nighttime with all the strange sounds. The first morning at breakfast, after our first night was finally over, we asked our guide what the sounds were that we were hearing. He mimicked several sounds and one certain sound he mimicked made us both jump up and say, “Yes! That was it!” He made what sounds like a hand-saw rhythmically sawing through a tree trunk. He replied, “Leopard.”

  8. I always enjoy learning about the wildlife you’ve encountered in your travels. I think we too often overlook the complexity of their lives, personalities and social structures. Athena’s photos are, of course, a delightful treat, too.

    • I so appreciated your comment, Eilene, and am glad you enjoyed the baboon post and photos. The interesting thing about understanding more about baboon complexities and social structures, is that it sheds light on our own human complexities and social structures. Cheers and thanks to you.

  9. What an enjoyable post about baboons in Africa, Jet. Brilliant wildlife photos as usual by Athena. She really did capture the baboons in all kinds of eating-in-action and roaming around. I am guessing you didn’t minded too much you got awoken by the baboons at night…all part of the experience and always an opportunity for photography.

    The shadow shot of you and the baboons watching each other is so creative. They were probably quite happy to see you 🙂 Whenever I’ve met a wild monkey, it always seems a bit too eager for a piece of food from me.

    • I’m happy to see you today, Mabel, thanks for stopping by. Yes, we didn’t mind getting awakened by the baboons at night, you’re right, it was great fun. Also great fun sharing the baboons with you, thank you.

  10. Our cousins keep themselves busy out there in nature’s wonderland.
    Your fine photos leave us all wanting more, more news, more photos,
    as they have created such interesting stories for us.
    We want more!
    love, Eddie

    • Your comment was a thrill and joy, Frank, because I have never slammed one out of the park and now I see how great it feels. Thanks so very much for your fun and kind comment.

  11. Wonderful topic, Jet, with great info and photos. You captured the variety of personalities – love the grooming shot. One of my funniest memories on safari: I forgot something in my tented room and when I went back, there was a baboon comically lazing by the pool outside our room. He looked rather annoyed that I was interrupting his morning poolside lie down. 🙂

    • I so love this baboon story, Jane. And you’re right: there are a variety of personalities. Your baboon relaxing by the pool sure proves that. Thanks so much for your fun contribution and for giving me a smile today.

    • Always a great joy to hear from you, Sylvia. You are right on, as usual, too. Yes, visiting Africa is a life-altering experience. There are so many things in my life that changed immensely after our first visit, that I can’t list them all here. But one example is that for ten years after our first visit, Athena and I worked and saved with one goal: to go back to that magical planet. We did this three times. I send you my warmest wishes for a day of peace and serenity.

  12. I love that final close-up photo – what do you think he was thinking?☺️. I like the fact that you pointed out the difference in their demeanor when they are grooming vs their usual active behavior. Ever since childhood, I always have imagined baboons as being highly boisterous and ‘overly’ energetic characters!

    • Baboons are fascinating to watch in the wild, and I espec. loved their calmer demeanor when grooming. So I’m really glad I could convey the difference to you, and that you enjoyed it, BJ. My warmest thanks for your visit today.

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