The baboon--an old world monkey -- is found across almost the entire African mid-continent and is one of the more successful primates. See map.

The baboon is found across almost the entire African mid-continent and is one of the more successful primates. There are several interesting videos and video clips on baboons. The study by Shirley Strum, shown in an older video, took place in Kenya, eastern Africa. Her research extended over decades, following the lives of one group of olive baboons. The more recent video (Nature, PBS, 2006) "Murder in the troop" more dramatically follows the lives of a group of chacma baboons as a new 'king' takes over the troop and how this affects others including a rare set of infant twins. We may also see comments by Sapolsky on his baboon stress research in the Responsive Brain video.

Several recent incidents in the news reflect their adaptabililty to human environments-- including raiding homes and cars for food and attacking children. Tour guides to the south African cape, warn tourists to keep their distance from the chacmas and not to feed them! They might be worse than bears. They are quite adaptible; see them wade.

Each of the various types of baboons seem to have their own unique features, whether in regard to diet, social relationships, or communication.


Olive baboon males weigh about 25 kg while the females a bit more than half of that -- this shows considerable sexual dimorphism.

Social structure

The females are hierarchically organized and maintain stability in the group as males come in from outside (unlike many ape species where females come into groups from outside.) Daughters inherit their mother's rank.
The group may have a dozen to a hundred members, with dominant males and females. Strum's research revealed how important the females were to the overall stability of the group and that aggression was not as important in the success of their society as previously thought. As in most primate society (and many other mammal societies), the outsider (M or F) must possess considerable social skills and other desirable features in order to pass his or her genes on into succeeding generations.
(Rank and status have an effect on physiological well-being. Stress levels apparently correlate with status and high stress negatively impacts their physiology. (Robert Sapolsky)

There are many variants of the baboon; not all have the same social structures.

Sex and reproduction:

Males become mature at 5-7 years; females in 4-5 years. Females have an estral swelling and reproduce every 1-2 years with a gestation of 6 months. Twins are very rare, as in most primates. Females are very social and succesful mothers tend to have good relationships with other females. A detailed life-cycle of baboons is available here. Mature males generally leave their troop and must join up with another.

In the "Murder' video, we see the new 'king' killing an infant. Infanticide in various species is thought to be a 'strategy' for the new male to speed up his take-over of the group. The mother of the dead infant, no longer nursing, becomes fertile and mates with the new guy, hastening the spread of his genes into the troop.


The Strum and "Murder" videos show a variety modes of communication -- vocalization, expressive eye movements and facial expression, gestures with limbs and tail, as well as "presenting" -- various posturing of their rear ends for display and inspection.

There is also extensive tactile communication-- muzzle touching on meeting, grooming. all primates engage in most of these activities.


Baboons can adapt to a variety of circumstances. Their adaptability and life outside of an arboreal setting was an important reason for considering them as a possible model for human evolution. The Strum video shows the group adapting to a new, dry environment as they were being killed off in their original one. Like many other non-human primates, the baboons find themselves in competition with human farmers. They also are preyed upon by cats and are very competitive for food with other non-human primates.


Baboons eat about anything -- flowers, leaves, roots, small animals. They love fruits and meat. We have probably seen or will see the difference between chimp and baboon efforts to eat termites in a short video clip on BB. The chacmas are described as primarily frugavores.


Altmann, J. 1980. Baboon Mothers and Infants. Harvard University Press.

Strum, S. C. (1987/1990). Almost human: A journey into the world of baboons. New York, W. W. Norton.