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11 Brilliant Baboon Facts About These Remarkable Primates

Baboons are one of the world's largest monkeys. One misconception about these primates is that they are naturally aggressive. As you read through these baboon facts, we'll uncover the truth behind these myths.

Let's begin with their complex social order, which resembles human societies in many respects. Additionally, their cognitive abilities are comparable to higher primates, providing valuable insights into studying intelligence in the animal kingdom. 

Related: Want to know more about other types of monkeys? Check out these general monkey facts.

10 Baboon Facts

baboon side view
Photo by Dmitrii Zhodzishskii on Unsplash.

1. There are six species of baboons in the world.

Six distinct species of baboons live in Africa and Arabia: the Kinda baboon, Olive baboon, Chacma baboon, Hamadryas baboon, Guinea baboon, and Yellow baboon. (While bleeding-heart monkeys also go by "gelada baboons," they are not true baboons.)

Each species has unique characteristics that intrigue wildlife enthusiasts and scientists. Remarkably adaptable, baboons maintain a varied existence across a wide range of environments, from the tropical rainforests to the semi-arid habitats of the African Savannah,

Olive baboons (also called Savannah Baboons) are the most widespread of the species, living in Mali, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. Meanwhile, Chacma baboons live in South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. 

The long-maned Hamadryas baboon (also referred to as the sacred baboon) lives in the Horn of Africa and across the Red Sea. On the other hand, the Guinea baboon is the smallest species, living in a small area of West Africa.

Lastly, the Yellow Baboon lives in Kenya and Zimbabwe. Interestingly, these baboon species can interbreed, resulting in hybrid offspring.

2. You can find baboons only in Arabia and Africa.

mom and son baboon
Photo by Jorge Tung on Unsplash

Baboons are a species of primates that only live in Africa and Arabia. However, they are highly adaptable and can live in various environments like savannahs, semi-arid lands, and tropical forests.

Savanna baboons include four baboon species: olive, yellow, chacma, and Guinea baboons. However, they avoid living in deserts and high mountains because they prefer accessible water sources and safe nesting sites.

3. Baboons lack prehensile tails.

Like other Old World monkeys, baboons do not have prehensile tails, so they can't swing from tree to tree with their tails. 

However, ground-dwelling baboons can still climb trees to escape danger. Despite lacking gripping tails, they can use their strong limbs as a safety harness to enjoy treetop adventures.

Although mostly known for enjoying a frugivorous diet, baboons eat an incredibly diverse array of foods, including everything from grass and seeds to fish and shellfish. They also sometimes eat insects and even smaller primates such as vervet monkeys.

4. Baboons are vocal primates.

baboon sitting on branch
Photo by Dawn W on Unsplash

One of the fascinating facts about baboons you probably didn't know is that they can produce more than 30 distinct vocalizations, which include grunts, barks, screams, and multi-part 'wahoo' calls. Each vocalization alerts the others to danger or expresses excitement, among others. 

Moreover, baboons add multiple layers of meaning to their exchanges, similar to how humans use tone and inflection when speaking. For instance, a short, quiet bark may indicate a minor threat, while a loud, long bark may convey a different message.

Additionally, baboons can recognize their peers' unique vocalizations, similar to how humans can identify their friends' voices. This capability maintains social bonds and hierarchy within the troop.

5. Baboons cuddle for warmth.

Baboons often cuddle for warmth, particularly when the evening comes and the temperature drops. By huddling together, their bodies generate heat in the cold environment. However, aside from its thermal benefits, this behavior also strengthens social connections within the baboon troop. 

Moreover, baboons prefer specific sleeping locations to avoid the reach of predators like leopards. Once settled, they huddle together to keep warm and deter predators. 

6. Baboon troops comprise up to 150 members.

baboon front view
Photo by Leila Boujnane on Unsplash

Next on our list of interesting baboon facts: In the wild, baboons can cover up to 150 individuals, composing a well-coordinated defense strategy. For instance, the troop relies on numerous pairs of eyes watching over one another, which can intimidate even the bravest predators. Furthermore, these baboons create a complex network of social dynamics among themselves.

The matriarchs are typically older, more experienced females at the baboon hierarchy's core. On the other hand, the dominant male enjoys the best food and mating opportunities among male baboons.

However, one can observe baboons grooming and engaging in play with each other. This social structure enables troop members to coordinate activities, resolve conflicts, and build relationships, fostering a collaborative spirit.

7. Mother baboons care for their young for a year.

The female baboon devotes herself to caring for its offspring, exercising total attention to detail. During the first month of the baby baboon's life, it clings to its mother's fur, receiving warmth, security, and transportation.

Moreover, the sows nurse their infants for approximately one year, not only to offer nourishment but also to strengthen their bond. During this phase, the sow creates an emotionally supportive environment for the infant.

As the young baboon begins to explore its surroundings, the sow evolves from a provider to an educator, teaching crucial skills such as foraging food and identifying potential dangers.

Even as the young baboon becomes more independent, a mother baboon remains vigilant and protective. At the slightest hint of danger, like a rustle in the bushes or an unfamiliar sound, she quickly picks up her young and retreats to a safe location.

8. Baboon troops help mothers raise their young.

Besides sows, baboons collectively care for the newborns in their community1. About six months after giving birth, the sow introduces her infant to the troop, who helps in its care. The troop practices alloparenting, a communal display of affection that is integral to baboon life and crucial for the upbringing of young baboons.

For instance, female baboons exhibit nurturing behavior towards newborns, including grooming, playing, and carrying them. Adult males also actively care for infant baboons. 

9. Baboons have become prey for African-painted dogs.

group of baboons
Photo by Magdalena Kula Manchee on Unsplash

African-painted dogs and baboons have coexisted peacefully for generations. However, due to ecological imbalances leading to food scarcity, the painted dogs have shifted their dining habits and now view baboons as food sources2.

African-painted dogs have started hunting baboons in recent years due to scarce food. Moreover, reports suggest that painted dogs have been playing with the remains of their baboon victims.

Initially, baboons resorted to escaping up the trees, caught off-guard by the dogs' behavior. However, this tactic only exposed them to danger. Over time, baboons have adapted to this new reality. Instead of climbing trees, baboons have begun biting and scratching at painted dogs with their sharp teeth and claws.

10. The oldest baboon fossil dates back 2.5 million years

In South Africa, scientists have found the oldest baboon fossil ever discovered. This special baboon, Parapapio Jonesi, lived 2.5 million years ago.

This ancient fossil looks a lot like today's baboons but also shares traits with a type of monkey called a gelada.

11. Baboons face various threats.

While baboons have natural predators, such as leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas, human intervention remains their biggest threat. Like many other monkeys, deforestation and urbanization have destroyed baboon habitats.

Moreover, hunters have killed baboons in some African regions for the bushmeat trade. Additionally, some baboon populations face tensions with farmers due to their excursions into farmlands, resulting in what some refer to as a "baboon-induced crop apocalypse."

One species of baboon in particular risk is the Hamadryas, which inhabits the Horn of Africa and the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Hamadryas is a "Near Threatened" species. Since baboons only live in two areas of the world, protecting them is imperative.  

We hope you enjoyed this list of surprising facts about baboons!

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with B.

1

Cheney, D. L., Seyfarth, R. M., Fischer, J., Beehner, J., Bergman, T., Johnson, S. E., Kitchen, D. M., Palombit, R. A., Rendall, D., & Silk, J. B. (2004). Factors affecting reproduction and mortality among baboons in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. International Journal of Primatology, 25(2), 401-428. 

2

Creel, S., & Creel, N. M. (2002). The African wild dog: Behavior, ecology, and conservation. Princeton University Press.

By Mike Gomez, BA.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Chinny Verana, BSc.

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