Wednesday, November 9, 2011

South African Primates

Savanna Baboon
There are three species of primates widely distributed in South Africa. The first and most abundant one is you and me - humans. There are about 44 million of us in South Africa and just like everywhere else on earth there are too many of us. We have dug great holes in the earth, turned over native vegetation and planted foreign crops on the land, allowed our bovines to over graze, polluted the rivers, cut down the forests, built damns on rivers and just generally trashed the place. Its what Homo sapiens is most adept at doing.

The two other primates in South Africa are much more enjoyable to be around, they don't destroy their homes and they are pretty cool to watch.

One is the Savanna Baboon Papio cyncephalus. This information from The Living Africa website nicely describes the characteristics and range of this magnificent primate.

Weight and Height
males: wt 59-97 lb (27-44 kg), hbl 29 in (72.5 cm)
females: wt 31-37 lb (14-17 kg), hbl 24 in (60 cm)

olive-, yellow-, reddish-, or greenish brown; dark limbs, black nose, lips, ears, hands and feet; fur is often shiny with an almost purple tint.

General Location
Found throughout savanna and arid zone, the savanna baboon is quite abundant wherever water and safe sleeping places occur. In recent years, the destruction of forests, agricultural expansion, and extinction of predators has allowed the baboon to live in areas which, in the past, have not been suitable.

The savanna baboon can be seen in the following National Parks and Reserves: Most abundant in Manyara NP, Tanzania, however the baboon can be seen in almost any NP or Reserve.

The baboon can easily search for food on the ground and equally as well in trees which means that it has a great advantage over other African mammals. The baboon is not water-dependent, but certainly needs to drink on a fairly regular basis. When water is not easily accessible, the baboon can either dig for water in dry streambeds or quench its thirst by eating foods that absorb a lot of moisture.

The baboon's diet consists of tubers, roots, bulbs, leaves, flowers, buds, seeds, aquatic plants, mushrooms, shoots, twigs, bark, fruits, and sap.

During the dry season(s), the baboon can easily dig nutritious corms and rhizomes out of the dirt beneath the dry grasses which means that food sources are abundant almost year-round.

The savanna baboon is strictly a diurnal mammal. The daily activity peaks vary from baboon to baboon which makes the baboon a truly unique African animal. On some days, a baboon will start foraging well after dawn and then settles down just before dark. Most baboons will travel approximately 3.7 mi (6 km) daily during the dry season and about 2.8 mi (4.5 km) drying the wet season. Baboons are unique because members of a troop will have a fairly similar schedule, and basically stay into contact with each other throughout the day.

A baboon troop is one of the most unique societies in the animal kingdom. Relations are often determined based on several factors such as: gender, the dominance hierarchy, and male-female and male-male alliances.

Baboon troops can be as small as 8 and as large as 200 animals, however a typical troop size is generally 30 to 40 members. In most troops, adult females will outnumber adult males 2-3 to 1. A troop's range can be from 988 to 9880 acres (400-4000 ha), easily overlapping multiple territories.

In baboon society, it is important for males to foster close bonds with females which means that males will help to take care of young. For example, a male will take part in grooming, feeding, carrying and holding young.

The mating peak is generally during the rainy season, but on the whole, reproduction is nonseasonal. The gestation period is 6 months and births are at 1.5 to 2 year intervals. The typical life span for the baboon is 20 to 30 years.

Eagles, jackals, lions, spotted hyenas, leopards, and other large carnivores.

The first Savanna Baboon's I saw were in Kruger National Park near the Punda Maria Rest Camp on September 11, 2011. A large troop of maybe 50 Baboons of what seemed like all age classes loped across the road in front of me as I drove toward the Rest Camp as the sun was quickly sliding toward the horizon.
My first Savanna Baboon

As I watched them hanging out being Baboons I noticed one female who was flashing her engorged pink labia, a signal among Baboons that a female is receptive to be bred. As if on cue a very large male walked up behind her, mounted her, pumped about three times and climbed off. The entire "passionate" encounter lasted maybe five seconds and reminded me of a girl I met in college a long long time ago.
Baboon sex - right in front of everyone

As I drove around South Africa I found Savanna Baboons widely distributed and almost fearless. One morning while parked along the shore of the Indian Ocean in St. Lucia National Park a baboon leaped up into the open window on the passenger side of my rental car and scanned the interior. Luckily I had my day pack on the floor of the backseat or it likely would have run off with it as they have been known to do on countless occasions.
Later in the trip, at Cape of Good Hope south of Cape Town, I encountered all manner of signs along the road warning (not merely informing) people of the very real danger of feeding the baboons there. Predictably despite all of the warnings I encountered a car loaded with tourists (with an American accent - imagine that) stopped by the road and a woman in the back seat had her hand out of her window repeating "here monkey, here monkey...." to a large male sitting by the side of the road. I pulled over to watch and was quite pleased to see the baboon walk up, take the apple, bite the woman and then saunter back to the side of the road where he ate his mid-morning snack. Unfortunately the baboon was probably reported for having "attacked" the woman and more unfortunately the baboon would likely be destroyed because it was a hazard (even though it was just doing what baboons are supposed to do) at least it got some satisfaction out of teaching the tourist that the signs aren't there to blow smoke up people's anal pores.

I need to sit down some time and figure out how many species of primates I've seen in various parts of the world. I still think that the Black Howler Monkey of Central and South America is the coolest one I've seen anywhere. Still the Savanna Baboon with its many human like characteristics (including its adeptness at stealing things from people's cars and biting the had that feeds it) is among my most favorite.

Also present in South Africa is the Vervet Monkey Cercopithecus aethiops whose range is more extensive than that of its larger cousin the Savanna Baboon.
Vervet monkeys are widespread in South Africa and just like the raccoon in North America seem to enjoy raiding garbage bins and dumping the contents on the ground

It wasn't unusual to see vervet monkeys darting across motorways in urban areas or was it unusual to see them hanging out in trees miles from the nearest human habitation. About the only part of South Africa where I didn't see this monkey was in the extensive area of grasslands near Wakkerstroom.

Someone in South Africa told me that seeing monkeys and baboons was an indicator of habitat quality. If that is true then there is apparently some hope for habitats and other wild critters. However with the world's population having reached 7 BILLION humans on my birthday, October 31, I do not hold out much hope for them or much else over the next several hundred years. Until that time comes, however, I will be happy knowing that I was able to experience two of our close cousins while I was in Africa. I hope others have the same opportunity in their life times.

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