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).
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.