Last updated

Baboon [1]
Temporal range: 2.0–0  Ma
Early Pleistocene – Recent
Olive baboon Ngorongoro.jpg
Olive baboon
Yellow baboon calls recorded in Kenya
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Suborder: Haplorhini
Infraorder: Simiiformes
Family: Cercopithecidae
Tribe: Papionini
Genus: Papio
Erxleben, 1777
Type species
Simia hamadryas

Papio hamadryas
Papio papio
Papio anubis
Papio cynocephalus
Papio ursinus


  • ChaeropitheusGervais, 1839
  • ComopithecusJ. A. Allen, 1925
  • CynocephalusG. Cuvier and É. Geoffroy, 1795
  • HamadryasLesson, 1840 (non Hübner, 1804: preoccupied)

Baboons are primates comprising the genus Papio, one of the 23 genera of Old World monkeys. There are six species of baboon: the hamadryas baboon, the Guinea baboon, the olive baboon, the yellow baboon, the Kinda Baboon and the chacma baboon. Each species is native to one of six areas of Africa and the hamadryas baboon is also native to part of the Arabian Peninsula. [2] Baboons are among the largest non-hominoid primates and have existed for at least two million years.

Baboons vary in size and weight depending on the species. The smallest, the Kinda Baboon, is 50 cm (20 in) in length and weighs only 14 kg (31 lb), while the largest, the chacma baboon, is up to 120 cm (47 in) in length and weighs 40 kg (88 lb). All baboons have long, dog-like muzzles, heavy, powerful jaws with sharp canine teeth, close-set eyes, thick fur except on their muzzles, short tails, and nerveless, hairless pads of skin on their protruding buttocks called ischial callosities that provide for sitting comfort. Male hamadryas baboons have large white manes. Baboons exhibit sexual dimorphism in size, colour and/or canine teeth development.

Baboons have diurnality and are terrestrial, but sleep in trees, or on high cliffs or rocks at night, away from predators. They are found in open savannas and woodlands across Africa. They are omnivorous: common sources of food are grasses, seeds, roots, leaves, bark, various fruits, insects, fish, shellfish, rodents, birds, vervet monkeys and small antelopes. Their principal predators are Nile crocodiles, leopards, lions and hyenas. Most baboons live in hierarchical troops containing harems. Baboons can determine from vocal exchanges what the dominance relations are between individuals.

In general, each male can mate with any female; the mating order among the males depends partly on their social rank. Females typically give birth after a six-month gestation, usually to one infant. The females tend to be the primary caretaker of the young, although several females may share the duties for all of their offspring. Offspring are weaned after about a year. They reach sexual maturity around five to eight years. Males leave their birth group, usually before they reach sexual maturity, whereas most females stay in the same group for their lives. Baboons in captivity live up to 45 years, while in the wild they average between 20 to 30 years.


Five species of Papio are commonly recognized, although there is some disagreement about whether they are really full species or subspecies. They are P. ursinus (chacma baboon, found in southern Africa), P. papio (western, red, or Guinea baboon, found in the far western Africa), P. hamadryas (hamadryas baboon, found in the Horn of Africa and southwestern Arabia), P. anubis (olive baboon, found in the north-central African savanna) and P. cynocephalus (yellow baboon, found in south-central and eastern Africa).

The five species of baboons in the genus Papio are: [1]

ImageScientific nameCommon NameDistribution
Papio hamadryas (aka).jpg Papio hamadryas Hamadryas baboon From the Red Sea in Eritrea to Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, southwestern Arabia, in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia
2011-06-12 13-59-42-Papio papio.jpg Papio papio Guinea baboon Guinea, Senegal, Gambia, Southern Mauritania and Western Mali
Grooming monkeys PLW edit.jpg Papio anubis Olive baboon Equatorial Africa
Yellow Baboon, Tanzania.jpg Papio cynocephalus Yellow baboon From Kenya and Tanzania to Zimbabwe and Botswana.
Chacma baboon (Papio ursinus griseipes) male head.jpg Papio ursinus Chacma baboon South Africa North to Angola, Zambia, and Mozambique

Many authors distinguish P. hamadryas as a full species, but regard all the others as subspecies of P. cynocephalus and refer to them collectively as "savanna baboons". This may not be helpful: it is based on the argument that the hamadryas baboon is behaviorally and physically distinct from other baboon species, and that this reflects a separate evolutionary history. However, recent morphological and genetic studies of Papio show the hamadryas baboon to be more closely related to the northern baboon species (the Guinea and olive baboons) than to the southern species (the yellow and chacma baboons). [3] [4] [5]

The traditional five-form classification probably under-represents the variation within Papio. Some commentators [6] argue that at least two more forms should be recognized, including the tiny Kinda baboon (P. cynocephalus kindae) from Zambia, DR Congo, and Angola, and the gray-footed baboon (P. ursinus griseipes) found in Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and northern South Africa. However, current knowledge of the morphological, genetic, and behavioral diversity within Papio is too poor to make any final, comprehensive judgment on this matter.


Baboon phylogeny Papio phylogeny (eng).png
Baboon phylogeny

In 2015 researchers found the oldest baboon fossil dating 2 million years ago. [7]


Face of a hamadryas baboon (Papio hamadryas) Portrait Of A Baboon.jpg
Face of a hamadryas baboon (Papio hamadryas)

All baboons have long, dog-like muzzles, heavy, powerful jaws with sharp canine teeth, close-set eyes, thick fur except on their muzzles, short tails, and rough spots on their protruding buttocks, called ischial callosities. These calluses are nerveless, hairless pads of skin that provide for the sitting comfort of the baboon.

All baboon species exhibit pronounced sexual dimorphism, usually in size, but also sometimes in colour or canine development. Males of the hamadryas baboon species also have large white manes.

Behavior and ecology

Baboons are able to acquire orthographic processing skills, which form part of the ability to read. [8]

Habitat and prey

Baboons are terrestrial (ground dwelling) and are found in open savannah, open woodland and hills across Africa. They are omnivorous, highly opportunistic feeders and will eat virtually anything, including grasses, roots, seeds, leaves, bark, fruits, fungus, insects, spiders, worms, fish, shellfish, rodents, birds, vervet monkeys, and small antelopes. [9] They are foragers and are active at irregular times throughout the day and night. They often raid human dwellings, and in South Africa they break into homes and cars in search of food. Baboons will also raid farms, eating crops and preying on sheep, goats and poultry.


Their principal predators are Nile crocodiles, lions, spotted and striped hyenas, and leopards. [10] [11] They are considered a difficult prey for the leopard, though, which is mostly a threat to young baboons. Large males will often confront them by flashing their eyelids, showing their teeth by yawning, making gestures, and chasing after the intruder/predator. Although they are not a prey species, baboons have been killed by the black mamba snake. This usually occurs when a baboon accidentally rouses the snake. [12]

Social systems

A troop of baboons BaboonTroop.jpg
A troop of baboons

The collective noun for baboons is "troop". [13] Most baboons live in hierarchical troops. Group sizes are typically around 50 animals, but can vary between 5 and 250, depending on species, location and time of year. The structure within the troop varies considerably between hamadryas baboons and the remaining species, sometimes collectively referred to as savanna baboons. The hamadryas baboons often appear in very large groups composed of many smaller harems (one male with four or so females), to which females from elsewhere in the troop are recruited while they are still too young to breed. Other baboon species have a more promiscuous structure with a strict dominance hierarchy based on the matriline. The hamadryas baboon group will typically include a younger male, but he will not attempt to mate with the females unless the older male is removed. In the harems of the hamadryas baboons, the males jealously guard their females, to the point of grabbing and biting the females when they wander too far away. Despite this, some males will raid harems for females. Such situations often cause aggressive fights between the males. Visual threats usually accompany these aggressive fights. These include a quick flashing of the eyelids accompanied by a yawn to show off the teeth. Some males succeed in taking a female from another's harem, called a "takeover". In several species, infant baboons are taken by the males as hostages, or used as shields during fights.

Baboons can determine from vocal exchanges what the dominance relations are between individuals. When a confrontation occurs between different families or where a lower-ranking baboon takes the offensive, baboons show more interest in this exchange than those between members of the same family or when a higher-ranking baboon takes the offensive. This is because confrontations between different families or rank challenges can have a wider impact on the whole troop than an internal conflict in a family or a baboon reinforcing its dominance. [14]

Baboon social dynamics can also vary; Robert Sapolsky reported on a troop, known as the Forest Troop, during the 1980s, which experienced significantly less aggressive social dynamics after its most aggressive males died off during a tuberculosis outbreak, leaving a skewed gender ratio of majority females and a minority of low-aggression males. This relatively low-aggression culture persisted into the 1990s and extended to new males coming into the troop, though Sapolsky observed that while unique, the troop was not an "unrecognizably different utopia"; there was still a dominance hierarchy and aggressive intrasexual competition amongst males. Furthermore, no new behaviours were created amongst the baboons, rather the difference was the frequency and context of existing baboon behaviour. [15]


Chacma baboons mating at Cape Point in South Africa Chacma baboons mating, Cape Point (South Africa).jpg
Chacma baboons mating at Cape Point in South Africa

Baboon mating behavior varies greatly depending on the social structure of the troop. In the mixed groups of savanna baboons, each male can mate with any female. The mating order among the males depends partially on their social ranking, and fights between males are not unusual. There are, however, more subtle possibilities; in mixed groups, males sometimes try to win the friendship of females. To garner this friendship, they may help groom the female, help care for her young, or supply her with food. The probability is high that those young are their offspring. Some females clearly prefer such friendly males as mates. However, males will also take infants during fights to protect themselves from harm. A female initiates mating by presenting her swollen rump to the male's face. [16]

Birth, rearing young, and life expectancy

Young Olive baboon on the back of its mother, Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania Baby baboon on back.jpg
Young Olive baboon on the back of its mother, Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania

Females typically give birth after a six-month gestation, usually to a single infant; twin baboons are rare and often do not survive. The young baboon weighs approximately 400 g and has a black epidermis when born.

The females tend to be the primary caretaker of the young, although several females will share the duties for all of their offspring. After about one year, the young animals are weaned. They reach sexual maturity in five to eight years. Baboon males leave their birth group, usually before they reach sexual maturity, whereas females are philopatric and stay in the same group their whole lives.

Baboons in captivity have been known to live up to 45 years, while in the wild their life expectancy is between 20 to 30 years.

Relationship with humans

In Egyptian mythology, Babi was the deification of the hamadryas baboon and was therefore a sacred animal. It was known as the attendant of Thoth, so is also called the sacred baboon. The 2009 documentary Baboon Woman examines the relationship between baboons and humans in South Africa.


Herpesvirus papio family of viruses and strains infect baboons. Their effects on humans are unknown. Humans infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis can transmit the disease to the primates upon close proximity. Pathogens have a high likelihood of spreading through humans and species of nonhuman primates, such as baboons. [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

Old World monkey Family of mammals

Old World monkey is the common English name for a family of primates known taxonomically as the Cercopithecidae. Twenty-four genera and 138 species are recognized, making it the largest primate family. Old World monkey genera include baboons and macaques. Common names for other Old World monkeys include the talapoin, guenon, colobus, douc, vervet, gelada, mangabey, langur, mandrill, surili (Presbytis), patas, and proboscis monkey. Phylogenetically, they are more closely related to apes than to New World monkeys. They diverged from a common ancestor of New World monkeys around 45 to 55 million years ago.

Mandrill Species of Old World monkey

The mandrill is a primate of the Old World monkey (Cercopithecidae) family. It is one of two species assigned to the genus Mandrillus, along with the drill. Both the mandrill and the drill were once classified as baboons in the genus Papio, but they now have their own genus, Mandrillus. Although they look superficially like baboons, they are more closely related to Cercocebus mangabeys. Mandrills are found in southern Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Congo. Mandrills mostly live in tropical rainforest and in very large groups. Mandrills have an omnivorous diet consisting mostly of fruits and insects. Their mating season peaks in July to September, with a corresponding birth peak in December to April.

<i>Mandrillus</i> Genus of Old World monkeys

Mandrillus is a genus of large Old World monkeys distributed throughout central and southern Africa, consisting of two species: M. sphinx and M. leucophaeus, the mandrill and drill, respectively. Mandrillus, originally placed under the genus Papio as a type of baboon, is closely related to the genus Cercocebus. They are characterised by their large builds, elongated snouts with furrows on each side, and stub tails. Both species occupy the west central region of Africa and live primarily on the ground. They are frugivores, consuming both meat and plants, with a preference for plants. M. sphinx is classified as vulnerable and M. leucophaeus as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Gelada Species of Old World monkey

The gelada, sometimes called the bleeding-heart monkey or the gelada "baboon", is a species of Old World monkey found only in the Ethiopian Highlands, with large populations in the Simien Mountains. Geladas are actually not baboons but the only living members of the genus Theropithecus. Theropithecus is derived from the Greek root words for "beast-ape". Like its close relatives the baboons, it is largely terrestrial, spending much of its time foraging in grasslands.

Olive baboon Also called the Anubis baboon, is a member of the family Cercopithecidae (Old World monkeys)

The olive baboon, also called the Anubis baboon, is a member of the family Cercopithecidae. The species is the most wide-ranging of all baboons, being found in 25 countries throughout Africa, extending from Mali eastward to Ethiopia and Tanzania. Isolated populations are also present in some mountainous regions of the Sahara. It inhabits savannahs, steppes, and forests. The common name is derived from its coat colour, which is a shade of green-grey at a distance. A variety of communications, vocal and non-vocal, facilitate a complex social structure.

Yellow baboon Species of baboon

The yellow baboon is a baboon in the family of Old World monkeys. The species epithet means "dog-head" in Greek, due to the dog-like shape of the muzzle and head. Yellow baboons have slim bodies with long arms and legs, and yellowish-brown hair. They resemble the Chacma baboon, but are somewhat smaller and with a less elongated muzzle. Their hairless faces are black, framed with white sideburns. Males can grow to about 84 cm, females to about 60 cm. They have long tails which grow to be nearly as long as their bodies. The average life span of the yellow baboon in the wild is roughly 15–20 years; some may live up to 30 years.

Hamadryas baboon Species of baboon

The hamadryas baboon is a species of baboon from the Old World monkey family. It is the northernmost of all the baboons, being native to the Horn of Africa and the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. These regions provide habitats with the advantage for this species of fewer natural predators than central or southern Africa where other baboons reside. The hamadryas baboon was a sacred animal to the ancient Egyptians and appears in various roles in ancient Egyptian religion, hence its alternative name of 'sacred baboon'.

Guinea baboon Species of Old World monkey

The Guinea baboon is a baboon from the Old World monkey family. Some (older) classifications list only two species in the genus Papio, this one and the hamadryas baboon. In those classifications, all other Papio species are considered subspecies of P. papio and the species is called the savanna baboon.

Chacma baboon Species of baboon from the Old World monkey family

The chacma baboon, also known as the Cape baboon, is, like all other baboons, from the Old World monkey family. It is one of the largest of all monkeys. Located primarily in southern Africa, the chacma baboon has a wide variety of social behaviors, including a dominance hierarchy, collective foraging, adoption of young by females, and friendship pairings. These behaviors form parts of a complex evolutionary ecology. In general, the species is not threatened, but human population pressure has increased contact between humans and baboons. Hunting, trapping, and accidents kill or remove many baboons from the wild, thereby reducing baboon numbers and disrupting their social structure.

Harem (zoology)

A harem is an animal group consisting of one or two males, a number of females, and their offspring. The dominant male drives off other males and maintains the unity of the group. If present, the second male is subservient to the dominant male. As juvenile males grow, they leave the group and roam as solitary individuals or join bachelor herds. Females in the group may be inter-related. The dominant male mates with the females as they become sexually active and drives off competitors, until he is displaced by another male. In some species, incoming males that achieve dominant status may commit infanticide.

Bonnet macaque Species of Old World monkey

The bonnet macaque, also known as zati, is a species of macaque endemic to southern India. Its distribution is limited by the Indian Ocean on three sides and the Godavari and Tapti Rivers, along with its related competitor the rhesus macaque in the north. Land use changes in the last few decades have resulted in changes in its distribution boundaries with the rhesus macaque, raising concern for its status in the wild.

Kinda baboon Species of mammal

The Kinda baboon is a species of baboon present in the miombo woodlands of Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, and possibly western Tanzania. While the Kinda baboon was once considered to be a subspecies of the yellow baboon, it is distinct enough to merit status as full species under the phylogenetic species concept.

Sexual dimorphism in non-human primates

Sexual dimorphism describes the morphological, physiological, and behavioral differences between males and females of the same species. Most primates are sexually dimorphic for different biological characteristics, such as body size, canine tooth size, craniofacial structure, skeletal dimensions, pelage color and markings, and vocalization. However, such sex differences are primarily limited to the anthropoid primates; most of the strepsirrhine primates and tarsiers are monomorphic.

Dinopithecus is an extinct genus of very large primate closely related to the baboon that lived during the Pliocene to the Pleistocene epoch of South Africa. It was named by Scottish paleontologist Robert Broom in 1937. The only species currently recognized is Dinopithecus ingens, as D. quadratirostris has been reassigned to the genus Soromandrillus. It is known from several infilled cave sites in South Africa, all of early Pleistocene age, including Skurweberg, Swartkrans, and Sterkfontein.

Multi-male groups, also known as multi-male/multi-female, are a type of social organization where the group contains more than one adult male, more than one adult female, and offspring. Within Order Primates, it is the most common social group type, with group sizes ranging from 10 to 100 individuals. Large groups of primates are called "troops". Examples of species that can be categorized under this type of social organization include many diurnal lemurs, langurs, and most members of the family Cebidae.

One-male group

One-male groups are a type of social organization where one male interacts with a group of females and their immature offspring. Offspring of both sexes are evicted from the group upon reaching puberty. It can be seen in many species of primates, including the gelada baboon, the patas monkey, savanna baboon, sun-tailed monkey, golden snub-nosed monkey, and the hamadryas baboon. There are costs and benefits for individuals living in one-male groups. As well, individuals within one-male groups can interact with each other just like individuals can interact with those from different one-male groups.

Female copulatory vocalizations, also called female copulation calls or coital vocalizations, are produced by female primates, including human females, and female non-primates. Copulatory vocalizations usually occur during copulation and are hence related to sexual activity. Vocalizations that occur before intercourse, for the purpose of attracting mates, are known as mating calls.

Sexual swelling The swelling of genital and perineal skin in some mammals as a sign of fertility

Sexual swellings are enlarged areas of genital and perineal skin occurring in some female primates that vary in size over the course of the menstrual cycle. Thought to be an honest signal of fertility, male primates are attracted to these swellings; preferring, and competing for, females with the largest swellings.

Sexual coercion among animals is the use of violence, threats, harassment, and other tactics to help them forcefully copulate. Such behavior has been compared to sexual assault, including rape, among humans.

Primate sociality

Primate sociality is an area of primatology that aims to study the interactions between three main elements of a primate social network: the social organisation, the social structure and the mating system. The intersection of these three structures describe the socially complex behaviours and relationships occurring among adult males and females of a particular species. Cohesion and stability of groups are maintained through a confluence of factors, including: kinship, willingness to cooperate, frequency of agonistic behaviours, or varying intensities of dominance structures.


  1. 1 2 Groves, C. P. (2005). "GENUS Papio". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 166–167. ISBN   0-801-88221-4. OCLC   62265494.
  2. "Facts About Baboons". . Retrieved 15 April 2018.
  3. Newman TK, Jolly CJ, Rogers J (2004). "Mitochondrial phylogeny and systematics of baboons (Papio)". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 124 (1): 17–27. doi:10.1002/ajpa.10340. PMID   15085544.
  4. Frost SR, Marcus LF, Bookstein FL, Reddy DP, Delson E (2003). "Cranial allometry, phylogeography, and systematics of large-bodied papionins (Primates:Cercopithecinae) inferred from geometric morphometric analysis of landmark data". Anatomical Record. 275 (2): 1048–1072. doi: 10.1002/ar.a.10112 . PMID   14613306.
  5. Wildman DE, Bergman TJ, al-Aghbari A, Sterner KN, Newman TK, Phillips-Conroy JE, Jolly CJ, Disotell TR (2004). "Mitochondrial evidence for the origin of hamadryas baboons". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 32 (1): 287–296. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2003.12.014. PMID   15186814.
  6. Jolly, CJ (1993). "Species, subspecies, and baboon systematics". In WH Kimbel; LB Martin (eds.). Species, Species Concepts, and Primate Evolution. New York: Plenum Press.
  7. Geggel, Laura (21 August 2015). "Skull of Earliest Baboon Discovered". Live Science. Retrieved 19 October 2017.
  8. Jonathan Grainger; Stéphane Dufau; Marie Montant; Johannes C. Ziegler; Joël Fagot (2012). "Orthographic processing in baboons (Papio papio)". Science. 336 (6078): 245–248. Bibcode:2012Sci...336..245G. doi:10.1126/science.1218152. PMID   22499949. S2CID   16902074.
  9. "AWF: Wildlife: Baboon". African Wildlife Foundation. Archived from the original on 17 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-18.
  10. "AWF: Wildlife: Baboon". African Wildlife Foundation. 2013-02-21.
  11. BUSSE, CURT (1980). "Leopard and Lion predation upon Chacma Baboons living in the Moremi Wildlife Reserve". Botswana Notes and Records. 12: 15–21. ISSN   0525-5090.
  12. Bauchot, Roland (2006). Snakes: A Natural History. Sterling. pp. 41, 76, 176. ISBN   978-1-4027-3181-5.
  13. "OED Collective nouns" . Retrieved 2006-11-26.
  14. Bergman TJ, Beehner JC, Cheney DL, Seyfarth RM (2003). "Hierarchical classification by rank and kinship in baboons". Science. 302 (November 14): 1234–1236. Bibcode:2003Sci...302.1234B. doi:10.1126/science.1087513. PMID   14615544. S2CID   30172042.
  15. Fry, Douglas P., ed. War, peace, and human nature: the convergence of evolutionary and cultural views. Oxford University Press, 2013, pp.427-436. Sapolsky questioned if the Forest Troop would be able to maintain its social system if a large number of aggressive new males joined. However, he notes that there was never an opportunity to study this as by the 2000s, the Forest Troop had expanded its range and individual animals spend most of their time alone. This means that the troop has essentially fragmented and no longer functions as a cohesive social unit.
  16. Altmann, J.; Hausfater, G.; Altmann, S. A. (1988). "Determinants of reproductive success in savannah baboons, Papio cynocephalus". In Clutton-Brock T. H. (ed.). Reproductive success: studies of individual variation in contrasting breeding systems. Chicago (IL): University Chicago Press. pp. 403–418.
  17. BUSSE, CURT (1980). "Leopard and Lion predation upon Chacma Baboons living in the Moremi Wildlife Reserve". Botswana Notes and Records. 12: 15–21. ISSN   0525-5090.

Further reading