Friday, November 21, 2014
Baboon Classification and Evolution
The Baboon is a medium to large sized species of Old World Monkey that is found in a variety of different habitats throughout Africa and in parts of Arabia. There are five different species of Baboon which are the Olive Baboon, the Guinea Baboon, the Chacma Baboon, the Yellow Baboon and the Hamadryas Baboon which differs most from the others wide it's bright red face and cliff-dwelling lifestyle (the other four species are collectively known as Savanna Baboons). However, there is some debate over the classification of the different species due to the fact that some have been known to interbreed, indicating that they could be sub-species instead. Baboons are incredibly sociable and intelligent animals that are known to form close bonds with other members of the troop that often last for life. They are also incredibly adaptable animals but their population numbers are declining throughout their natural range primarily due to hunting and habitat loss.
Baboons are large and powerfully built monkeys that spend most of their time on the ground. They have large heads with a long, dog-like muzzle and cheek-pouches for storing food with a heavy brow ridge protecting their eyes. Males are often twice the size of females and have fearsomely sharp canines that help them to defend the troop from danger, but their exact size depends on the species with the Chacma Baboon being the largest while the Guinea Baboon is the smallest species. Baboons have wild-looking fur with a longer mane that extends over the shoulders and hairless patches on their faces and rumps which are padded with hard skin. Their colour varies from olive-green to yellow, silver and brown depending on the species. They also have a distinctive bend towards the base of their long tails.
Baboons would have once been found throughout the African continent and today, although they are still widespread, their natural range continues to decrease. Baboons are found in a variety of habitats including savanna, scrub, rocky deserts and rainforests providing there is an ample supply of water. The Hamadryas Baboon is found in the rocky deserts in the hills that line the coast of the Red Sea both in north-east Africa and in parts of the western Arabian peninsula. The Olive Baboon is the most widespread species with a range that extends from west to east across a wide range of habitats, whereas the Guinea Baboon is confined to a small region in the west. The Yellow Baboon is found in the east and the largest species, the Chacma Baboon is also found the furthest south, with a range that covers the southern tip of Africa.
Baboons are incredibly sociable animals that live in large troops that can be very varied in size and can contain a few hundred members. Baboon troops consist of both males and females with their young and form very close bonds by feeding, sleeping and grooming together. During the day they break into smaller bands of 4 or 5 females and young, that is led by a dominant male who attempts to keep other males away. The Hamadryas Baboon however, lives in much smaller groups of around 12 females and a single alpha male. Baboons live together for protection and are constantly on the look-out for dangerous predators, particularly when they are out in the open. If a threat is spotted, they make loud barks and while the males run to attack, the females and young disappear up into the safety of the trees. Baboons communicate between one another in a variety of different ways including vocals calls, facial expressions and even signal with their tails.
Baboons breed all year round and while they don't have a strict breeding season, there are peaks in mating and births at certain times of year (depending on the location). When a female is ready to mate, the dominant male of their sub-group will defend his right to mate with her fiercely but despite his efforts, female Baboons mate with numerous males in the group during their lives. After a gestation period that lasts for around 6 months, the female Baboon gives birth to a single infant that grabs onto her fur instantly and clings onto her. When they are born, young Baboons are contrasting colours to their parents and are tolerated by the troop until they moult and grow their adult fur after about two months. Young females remain with their mother and the two will often form very close bonds throughout their lives, whereas males are chased out of the troop and are forced to try and prove themselves to another group.
Baboon Diet and Prey
The Baboon is an omnivorous animal that is known to eat a wide variety of both plant matter and small animals. Fruits, seeds, tough roots and flowers all make up the bulk of their diet, along with insects, eggs, lizards and rodents. However, their large size and power also means that they sometimes hunt and kill larger prey such as young Gazelles. In areas where human settlements are encroaching on their natural habitats, Baboons are also known to raid crop fields which has led to them often being seen as pests. Baboons have very similar teeth to people with a series of large, flat molars which are perfect for grinding down vegetation and surplus food can be stored in their flexible cheek pouches to be saved for later.
Baboon Predators and Threats
Due to their size and the fact that Baboons spend the majority of their lives on the ground, they are preyed upon by numerous predators throughout their natural range. Wildcats such as Lions, Leopards and Cheetahs are the most common predators of the Baboon along with large Pythons, African Wild Dogs and Birds of Prey that hunt the smaller and more vulnerable young. People however, pose the biggest threat to Baboons as they are often hunted and killed for meat and are even shot by farmers who consider them as pests, fearing for their crops. Their numbers though are being most affected by the loss of their once vast natural habitats, which are being subjected to deforestation for agriculture or land clearance for grazing and growing human settlements.
Baboon Interesting Facts and Features
Although Baboons retire into the safety of the trees to sleep at night, they spend nearly all of the rest of their lives on the ground and roam throughout their home ranges in search of food and water. They are known to walk many miles a day and only stop in the shade to get out of the midday sun, and are capable of travelling more than four miles between dawn and dusk. Like many other primates, Baboons take part in social grooming by picking parasites, dead skin and dirt from each other's fur. This not only strengthens social bonds within the troop but also highlights the status of the individual, with the Baboon who is being groomed having a higher status in the troop than the one who is grooming them. In order for male outsiders to be accepted into the troop, they must form a relationship with one of the females until he is then accepted by the others. This process can take months but the pair are usually known to remain close-knit friends for life.
Baboon Relationship with Humans
Baboons have adapted remarkably well to the growing human populations throughout their natural range but the fact that they often raid crops has led to them being persecuted by farmers. They are also hunted and eaten as bushmeat in many areas of their native regions but it is their dwindling habitats that is causing the biggest problem for them. Vast areas of forest are cleared every day to make room for agriculture or to log the tropical timbers which means that Baboons have fewer areas where they can sleep safely in the trees. The grasslands are also dwindling in size as land is turned over to livestock for grazing or used for the expansion of growing settlements.
Baboon Conservation Status and Life Today
Today, four species of Baboon are listed by the IUCN as a species that is of Least Concern from becoming extinct in the wild in the near future. The Guinea Baboon is listed as a Near Threatened species. However, despite still being relatively widespread, population numbers are declining in all species due to hunting and habitat loss, with populations in certain areas rapidly becoming more and more isolated from one another. They are found throughout many of Africa's national parks and reserves where they play a vital role in the upkeep of the eco-system.