Chacma baboons are highly social animals and live in large family groups called troops.

In South Africa, chacma baboons are common in the Drakensberg, Cape Fynbos region and Succulent Karoo. They are the largest of the five baboon species in the world. Chacma baboons have a dog-like head, prominent muzzle and large canines. Males are larger than females.

Males and Females

  • While there may be a number of adult males in the troop, the dominant alpha male heads up the family group. The alpha male is fiercely protective of the females and infants and jealously guards his right to mate with respective females. He also dominates access to food.
  • Males use their prominent canines to fight and intimidate other males by yawning.
  • Female baboons remain in the troop throughout their lives. They groom each other and their offspring to establish social bonds in the troop.
  • When a new alpha male takes over the troop, he may kill infant baboons in the troop. This is called as infanticide.

Lone Males

  • When young males reach seven to eight years old, they leave the troop to find unrelated females. These males, called dispersing males, move between troops looking for mating opportunities. This is essential for a good genetic mix.
  • Without the protection of the troop, a dispersing male may face grave danger from humans, their dogs and possibly even death in a road accident. Mortality rates among the group are higher as a result of predators or injuries sustained during fights with other males.
  • Our suburbs and cities act as a barrier for these dispersing males. On his journey, the young male may venue into town. A foray into a dustbin of discarded human food or the lure of a fruit tree in a garden may habituate him to human food. This is not only bad for his health but he may become aggressive in his search for ‘easy’ human food.
  • A dispersing male reported in the urban area is captured and tagged to identify him. His movements are monitored. He may be transported back to his home troop where he will often settle down. If he continues to enter an urban area, he may (where appropriate) be transported across town to join the troop on the other side. His settlement in this troop is up to him and the new troop members.
  • Lone males dispersing into urban areas can be reported to the City of Cape Town baboon hotline on +27 71-588-6540.

Infants and Juveniles

  • The baboon gestation period is around six months. Females usually give birth to a single infant, an adorable baby with black fur and a tiny pink face. The new baby captures its mother’s full attention and is often fussed over by the troop. The baby will cling to mom’s belly for easy access to milk and protection. By the three months of age the infant can ride on its mother’s back. Infants are weaned at about one year of age.
  • Almost half of the troop is made up of juveniles. They enjoy boisterous play with other juvenile members. The juveniles are the troop ‘baby-sitters’, carrying and playing with the younger babies. They take this job very seriously.

A baboon’s bark

Fast Facts

Scientific name: Papio ursinus

Class and order: mammal – primate

Distribution: Southern Africa

Habitat: mountains, savanna, wetlands, semi-desert, coastal regions

Diet: wild fruit, shoots, roots, flowers, leaves, small vertebrates and invertebrates

Gestation: 187 days; singleton
Weight: 15-40kg

Social unit: troop

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