Close knit clans

I saw baboons for the first time in Amboseli national park, but again I felt as if I’d come on something very familiar. Going by the geographical range, these would be yellow baboons (Papio cynocephalus). The troop was foraging around the path of a herd of elephants on the move, and neither seemed to pay any attention to the other. Some troops of baboons in Amboseli have as many as a hundred members; this was small, with perhaps around ten members. They seemed to forage independently, but they never moved very far from each other.

In fact, through their whole life, females never move more than a few hundred meters from each other. As a result, a lot of their mental effort goes into maintaining good social relations. Interestingly, females are able to tell maternal and paternal sisters, and cooperate with them. This perhaps means that although both sexes are promiscuous, they track matings very closely. Males may move from one group to another, to increase their chances of mating, and, as a result, are more competitive. The behaviour of baboons seems to be a simplified model of human behaviour; so I was surprised that I could not find any folk stories about baboons from the tribes of Kenya. Maybe I need to search harder.

It seems that baboons will eat anything at all. The technical term for it is “opportunistic feeding”. I saw an example of this as a baboon picked up a paper napkin discarded by the side of the road from a passing vehicle. It sniffed at it briefly and then put it down again before moving off. I wondered whether baboons depend on the sense of smell more than sight. As opportunistic hunters of small game, their eyesight must be very good. But sniffing at a potential item of food seems to indicate that the dog-like muzzle might harbour an acute sense of smell.