roots, berries. Also insects and small vertebrates
steppe, hillsides, escarpments, mountains
in Ethiopia. Also in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen
The Hamadryas baboons
Hardy monkeys with a strong build and a dog-like snout, both males and females of this baboon species sport greyish-brown fur. The males develop a long, silvery mantle-like mane when they reach puberty. They are twice as big as the females. Males and females look so dissimilar that they have been thought to be of different species.
Pay these intelligent primates a visit at the Great Rift Valley exhibit. You can also take part in the daily 2.30pm and 5.00pm feedings.
The steep escarpments at the exhibit are home to the baboons. For a closer view, head to the rock ‘cave’ with glass viewing panels. Every now and then, these curious creatures troop right up to the glass to fix a human-like gaze on guests!
Indeed, these baboons are no buffoons. Though they’ve gone extinct in Egypt, they were once revered by the ancient Egyptians as representatives of Thoth, the god of science and the art of writing and are known as ‘sacred baboons’.
One male to many females
The baboons form clans, or "One Male Unit" (OMU) social and breeding groups. Each is comprised of a dominant male and his harem. In general, males "respect" the social bond between other males and their female affiliates. Still, each male jealously herds his females, keeping them from socialising with other males. He chases after females that stray too far for his liking and inflicts a painful bite on their necks as a reminder for them to stay close to him.
The importance of grooming
Grooming keeps the OMU cohesive. The leader male is groomed by his females, who focus on his mane, face, and buttocks - the male’s mane is thought of as a strong mate attractant.
Subadult males yet to establish an OMU may resort to abducting juvenile females. The abductor grooms his ‘adopted’ female and piggybacks her, providing what appears to be parental care. Once she reaches maturity, he mates with her. Nabbing this first female is crucial to expanding his harem.
A more risky strategy adopted by subadult males is to attach themselves to an already established OMU as followers. Followers aim to either steal females from the OMU leader, or to overthrow him and take over his harem. Most females only mate with their leader male. Some females risk his wrath by ‘sneaking’ secret trysts with follower males. It’s possible that in the event of an OMU takeover, the females’ ‘infidelity’ protects their offspring by confusing their paternity.
Lies for lives
Interestingly, females go into ‘deceptive’ sexual cycles upon a takeover. Even females still nursing their young develop genital swellings and present themselves to the new male. Perhaps females that mate with him are more favoured. Or it could be the females’ way of protecting their young from being killed - new males often undertake mass infanticide. Either way, it’s all a show and the females do not become pregnant any sooner than if the leader had remained unchanged.