The baboon, of all the primates in East Africa, most frequently interacts with people. Apart from humans, baboons are the most adaptable of the ground-dwelling primates and live in a wide variety of habitats. Intelligent and crafty, they can be agricultural pests, so they are treated as vermin rather than wildlife.
The two most common baboons occur in East Africa, the olive baboon and the yellow baboon. The larger and darker olive baboon is found in Uganda, west and central Kenya and northern Tanzania. Smaller, more slender and lighter in color, the yellow baboon inhabits southern and coastal Kenya and Tanzania. Both types are "dogfaced," but the yellow's nose turns up more than the olive's.
Baboons are found in surprisingly varied habitats and are extremely adaptable. The major requirements for any habitat seems to be water sources and safe sleeping places in either tall trees or on cliff faces. When water is readily available, baboons drink every day or two, but they can survive for long periods by licking the night dew from their fur.
Baboons usually leave their sleeping places around 7 or 8 a.m. After coming down from the cliffs or trees, adults sit in small groups grooming each other while the juveniles play. They then form a cohesive unit that moves off in a column of two or three, walking until they begin feeding. Fanning out, they feed as they move along, often traveling five or six miles a day. They forage for about three hours in the morning, rest during the heat of the day and then forage again in the afternoon before returning to their sleeping places by about 6 p.m. Before retiring, they spend more time in mutual grooming, a key way of forming bonds among individuals as well as keeping the baboons clean and free of external parasites.
Baboons sleep, travel, feed and socialize together in groups of about 50 individuals, consisting of seven to eight males and approximately twice as many females plus their young. These family units of females, juveniles and infants form the stable core of a troop, with a ranking system that elevates certain females as leaders. A troop's home range is well-defined but does not appear to have territorial borders. It often overlaps with the range of other baboons, but the troops seem to avoid meeting one another.
When they begin to mature, males leave their natal troops and move in and out of other troops. Frequent fights break out to determine dominance over access to females or meat. The ranking of these males constantly changes during this period.
Males are accepted into new troops slowly, usually by developing "friendships" with different females around the edge of a troop. They often help to defend a female and her offspring.
Baboons are opportunistic omnivores and selective feeders that carefully choose their food. Grass makes up a large part of their diet, along with berries, seeds, pods, blossoms, leaves, roots, bark and sap from a variety of plants. Baboons also eat insects and small quantities of meat, such as fish, shellfish, hares, birds, vervet monkeys and young, small antelopes.
Caring for the Young
For the first month, an infant baboon stays in very close contact with its mother. The mother carries the infant next to her stomach as she travels, holding it with one hand. By the time the young baboon is 5 to 6 weeks old it can ride on her back, hanging on by all four limbs; in a few months it rides jockey style, sitting upright. Between 4 and 6 months the young baboon begins to spend most of its time with other juveniles.
The baboon's major predators are humans. Knowing that humans can easily kill or injure them when they are in trees, baboons usually escape through undergrowth. Males may confront other predators like leopards or cheetahs by forming a line and strutting in a threatening manner while baring their large canines and screaming. Baboons are fierce fighters, but a demonstration such as this can put the predator on the run.