The figure that towers ominously over us, fog rolling off the surrounding hills accentuating his mystique, is none other than a baboon. Cleverly utilizing the pylon as a look out, he howls from his perch in constant urgency to his concealed troop below. He warns others of the brotherhood of cheetahs resting nearby.
Baboon vocalisations have been researched heavily as they may pertain to the origins of human speech. It has been determined that there are five vowel like sounds that baboons produce that were previously thought to be only unique to humans. The ability to create clear vowel sounds is believed to be connected to the origins of speech. This could mean that the origin of speech could be much earlier than previously believed, dating back to the common ancestor of humans and baboons almost 25 million years ago! (So, this is why we talk so much, we’ve had a lot of practice)
There are five different species of this old-world monkey found in Africa and Arabia. Although some are found in tropical forests they generally prefer the savanna, patrolling the dry open plains of their home range. Unlike other monkeys, baboons do not have prehensile tails (for gripping branches) but they will climb tries to sleep and eat.
A Baboon troop, often containing dozens of baboons, utilises an array of interesting behaviours to maintain the peace. As such these troops tend to function as a cohesive social unit. Female baboons form strong social bonds between kin through grooming (removing debris, insects and scabs from others skin). These bonds are important as stronger social networks have shown greater infant survivability and increased the longevity of the members. Mothers, daughters and granddaughters will stay together for their lifetimes, with the social status of the mother being passed on to the daughter. Males will compete within in the troop and against rivals for dominance. The alpha male will be the first to mate with ovulating females. At around 7-8 years of the age male baboons will disperse, as such the male will live in several troops throughout their lifetime.
Troops can contain multi- leveled social systems, but the most basic troop structure comprises of a single male leader, several females, dependent offspring and other subordinate males. The other males will socialise with the females but will not tend to mate.
Look at those chompers!
Male baboons develop huge canines which they use to scare off any potential competitors. They will display these fangs with a long yawn. Inside the baboon’s mouth they have cheek pouches, where they stash snacks for later.
Why do they have red bums?
The first thing that people notice about a baboon is their glossy red supple behind. These specialised cheeks provide a comfy seat amongst the rocky terrain. Unlike other monkey species, baboons sit on their bums instead of squatting. Their bums are covered with hairless pads of calloused skin, which has no nerve endings providing the perfect permanent cushion. The pads are slightly ridged which provides grip when the baboon is sitting in a tree.
These pads vary in colour and you will see the red colour on some males during periods of aggression and mating. The baboon’s rear end can act as an indicator for other things too such as when females come into season their genital region including their buttocks swells and turns bright. A giant beacon alerting males that it is time for sexing. Once impregnated the females bum will return to normal.
If a new male takes control of the troop, a female can use this indicator to trick the male into mating with her to keep the new male from harming her infant.
Are they dangerous?
Traveller, I must relive my horror. Like a fool I was walking through the bush one night in reserve in Limpopo. There were no predators is this reserve only grazing animals and to my surprise Baboons. The night was pitch black filled with an orchestra of insects, bats and various other calls. I could not sleep and was walking to ease my nerves when I was confronted by a baboon. Lost in my own mind, I did not notice the rustling around me until there was a thump in the path in front. From the thump burst the loudest screech, I have ever heard. I froze and slowly turned around once the feeling came back, returning to my bed, realising I would not be able to sleep that night.
Baboons will only become dangerous if you threaten their territory. When threatened, the male baboons will place themselves between you and the troop. The male will show their front teeth as a warning sign if you get any closer. If you continue to approach they will charge and then bite (which can break bones).
In the distance we hear a familiar roar, the reassuring sound of our saviors.
Freedom at last! With the work of a wrench and the help of another vehicle we are safe. Unstuck, we begin to drive back in fear of getting caught again. Before traveling much further I stop the vehicle and point to the ground before us.
What could be so interesting about this bug?
All will be revealed on Wednesday!
Relive the Journey: The Journey Begins