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Know Your Baboons

23 Jan 2020 | By Author Thornybush | Wildlife

Baboons and monkeys are common inhabitants of African nature reserves and by the time your safari is done you will have become accustomed to their presence.

Although baboons are a type of monkey, they are different from monkeys in many ways:

  • Baboons are classified as old-world monkeys, meaning that they are native to Africa, India and Southeast Asia, while monkeys in general occur in South America as well.
  • Baboons spend most of their time on the ground while monkeys prefer to hang about in the trees.
  • Monkeys’ snouts have a rounder shape compared to the baboons’ dog-like muzzle.
  • Baboon’s tails are shorter and have a kinked appearance; they are not as prehensile as monkeys’ tails.
  • Monkeys come in a large variety of sizes and colours whereas baboons are usually of a brownish hue and are the largest members of the monkey family, growing up to 70cm and weighing in at 30-40 kg.

In South Africa you will most likely encounter the grey-coloured Vervet monkey and the Chacma baboon [Papio Ursinus meaning ‘bear-like’], which is large and olive-brown in colour. They are often spotted close to human settlements and are inclined to hover around rest camps in the reserves. This is due to their high intelligence and opportunistic natures i.e. they have figured out where the best scraps are to be found. Baboons are often the culprits when it comes to upturned dustbins and raided accommodations.

The feeding of these animals is at the root of this problem. In the wild baboons are omnivorous and eat leaves, grass, flowers, fruit, roots, insects, lizards, birds and eggs. They will kill small mammals given the chance. In turn, baboons are very vulnerable to attack from predators such as leopard and remain on constant alert. Baboons never stray far from trees, and if they sense danger, they flee high up in the branches, the males barking their piercing alarm calls as they go. Other animals, such as impala, are often seen in company with baboons in order to take advantage of this early warning system.

At night, the baboon troop will congregate in trees or high up on cliffs and never travel more than 2 kilometres from their sleeping places. They do however have several sleeping spots within their territory and will move on when their food sources become depleted.

Baboons have a complex social system based on male-dominance. Their social interactions involve touching, vocalisation and a wide range of facial expressions which can be interesting to watch (at a safe distance), either on a game drive or from the comfort of your accommodation.


Image Credit: Charles Peterson via Flickr