All About Encountering Baboons in Africa

Baboons in Africa: The word ‘Baboon’ may originate from the Egyptian god, Babi; Chief of all baboons. In Ancient Egyptian mythology, the Hamadryas baboon was worshiped as a god, associated with wisdom, science and measurement.

In Egyptian paintings predating the Common Era, baboons are pictured as pets who even took part in human activities and rituals. Archaeologists have found mummified remains of the Hamadryas baboon signifying their importance to the Egyptian civilization.

Learn more about Africa in our other blogs.

Baboons are remarkably intelligent and through experiments, have been found to decipher elements of language, understanding words in a sequence. Not to mention their highly complicated social grouping structures, deep empathy for one another and adaptability to the developing world around them. 

Intrigued by Baboons yet? Read more about them here. You can continue reading or jump ahead to a headline of your interest: 

Baboons in Africa: General facts

Species of baboons

Where to encounter baboons

Are baboons dangerous?

Baboons conservation status

Summary 

Baboons in Africa: General Facts

Five species of baboon exist around the world. These Baboon species are known as the Chacma, Olive, Yellow, Guinea and Hamadryas baboons.

Chacma Baboons embrace
A caring embrace.

Four of which ( excluding the Hamadryas) can be found in southern, central and northern Africa. They are known as Savanna baboons. These baboons are categorized too, by their complex, hierarchical order of troops which may consist of up to hundreds of members. A fascination to study and track. Troops are known to be dominated by males who influence movements and relationships that exist within the group structure. The Hamadryas baboon, an exception, may be located along the red sea, Northern africa and Arabia. Cliff dwellers by night and foragers by day. They differ in more intimate troop sizes. Baboons are very compassionate toward their own members within a troop, doing anything to protect and care for them. This can be mistaken for aggression but shouldn’t be. 

Don’t be mistaken by the description of Old World Monkeys which is a genus ( subfamily) of primates including the species of baboon. 

Order: Primates  
Weight: 9-31 kg  
Diet: Omnivorous  
Lifespan: 15- 40 years  
Predators: Humans and big cats, birds of prey, crocodiles  
Habitat: Savannah and woodlands
Gestation period: approximately 6 months. Mature upon ages of 6-8 (African wildlife Foundation)  
Distinct Regions: Semi-arid and savannah Africa and Arabia  
Troops: Male dominated leadership and females ranked by birth order.
Baboons sexual maturity: between the age 5 and 8.  
Unlike Moneys: Baboons do not have prehensile tails to use as an extra limb (when climbing trees)
Lifespan: 30 years in the wild and up to 45 years in captivity.  
Daytime: They travel long distances in the morning and afternoon in search of food
Night time: Seek camouflage in tree tops/ sheltered shrubs/ rocky areas

Different baboon species

Have a look at the different species of baboon.

Baboon SpeciesOlive
papio anubis
Yellow
Papio cynocephalus
Guinea
Papio papio
Hamadryas
Papio hamadryas
ChacmaPapio ursinus
CoatGreen-GreyLight-Brownish yellow coat Reddish Coat/ Small frameWhite/Silver (male) and Brown (female)coatLarge, Heavy, Dark Brown
LocationEquatorial AfricaCentral Africa  West AfricaNorth eastern Africa along the Red SeaSouthern Africa
HabitatSavannah, woodlands, GrasslandsSavannah, forests & shrubsSavannah, woodlands & coastal grasslandsSavannah semi-desert and rocky areasSavannah and semi-arid desert
Avg.
Life span
25 years15-20 Years20- 30 years20 years30-40 years
Group Dynamic15- 200 members in a troop20- 200 members in a troopUp to 200 membersFour- Level social system forming a troopSmaller social groupings: male, females and offspring

You can learn more about where to see baboons in the next chapter.

Where to encounter Baboons in Africa 

We have found some of the best places to observe Baboons in Africa, in their natural Habitats. 

Map locating baboons in Africa
The geographical distribution of Baboons in Africa and where to encounter them.

#1 Olive Baboons in Kenya 

The common name is derived from its coat colour, which is a shade of green-grey at a distance.

Olive baboons also practice a variety of communications, vocal and non-vocal, facilitating a complex social structure.Geographical range: Found throughout and across 25 Equatorial Africa. Highest population can be found in New Guinea.

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#2 Yellow Baboons:

Their scientific name translates to ‘dog-head’ in Greek, due to the dog-like shape of the muzzle and head. Yellow baboons are smaller in stature/ slimmer bodies with long arms and legs, and, of course, their yellowish-brown hair. Because of this, they resemble a smaller Chacma baboon, with a less elongated muzzle, and their prominent color makes them unique. 

Yellow baboons inhabit savannas and light forests in eastern Africa, from Kenya and Tanzania to Zimbabwe and Botswana. During the day they are terrestrial, and live in complex, mixed-gender social groups of eight to 200 individuals per troop. They are omnivorous however their diet mostly consists of fruits, and occasionally plants, seeds, grasses, bulbs, leaves, bark, blossoms and fungi as well as worms, insects, birds and rodents. 

Yellow baboons use at least 10 different vocalizations to communicate within their group and others. When on the move, the social structure is led by males, females and the young, centered in the middle and less dominant males at the rear. This structure is very important concerning the order of the troop, their movements, protection and longevity in an unforgiving wildlife environment. They may live up to 20 years. 

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#3 Guinea Baboons: 

The Guinea baboon inhabits a small area in western Africa. Its range includes Guinea, Senegal, Gambia, southern Mauritania and western Mali.

They have distinctive reddish-brown hair, a hairless, dark-violet or black face with the typical dog-like muzzle, which is surrounded by a small mane. Active during the day but asleep in trees or among high rock formations at night, away from predators. The number of suitable sleeping trees limits the group size and the range. 

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#4 Hamadryas Baboons: 

Hamadryas Baboons have been wandering the north-eastern African desert for thousands of years. Even worshiped in Ancient Egyptian Mythology.

The baboon’s geographical  range extends from the Red Sea in Eritrea to Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia. They have also been uncommonly known to move as far in the Sarawak region of southwestern as Arabia, in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Hamadryas baboons have a fascinating four-level social system called a multilevel society, where much of the social interaction occurs within small groups called one-male units (harems) containing one male and up to 10 females. A Harem often includes a younger follower or followers( male) that may be related to the leader.

However when two/ more harems join they form clans, where males are close relatives of one another in an age-related hierarchy. Bands are the next level. Two to four clans form bands of up to 400 individuals which usually travel and sleep as a group.

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 #5 Chacma Baboons: 

South Africa boasts some of the most visited tourist spots in the world, featuring endemic biodiversity and wildlife that varies extensively, offering a vibrant experience for visitors.

Baboons in Botswana at sunset
Sunset observing in Botswana |Lella Merani

The chacma baboons are an unmissable feature of Cape Town’s tourism attractions, in troops located along the stretch of mountain that makes up the Table Mountain National Park. Currently 11 troops of baboons exist in the Cape.

These troops range from 20- 200 members who have assimilated into settlements footing mountain access, interacting with human communities and adapting their lifestyle to integrate into development of urban structures which encroach on their natural habitat.

The word “chacma” is derived from the Hottentot (Khoikhoi) name for baboon. Remarkably the Chacma baboons in the cape and along the coastal stretches of mountain side, have sustained a diet of fruit, roots, insects and foraging mussels along the shore-front; a lifestyle and diet reminiscent of human ancestors in the cape 100 000 years ago.

Visit: 

  • Local wonders: Smitswinkel Bay Beach
  • Cape Point stays : Olifantsbos Guest House and Eland and Duikers Cottage
  • Tour Operators: City Sightseeing south africa. 
  • Table Mountain reserve: A coastal route from Simon’s town, Cape town, around the southern Peninsula, Scarborough, Kommetjie, through Noordhoek and over Chapman’s peak to Hout Bay for an unfiltered and organic experience of witnessing baboon troops merging with the human community along the route.

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Are Baboons Dangerous?

We need to fall in love with Baboons again. They have often been misunderstood, vilified and associated with fear but they are actually highly intelligent animals that intrigue and delight those who are lucky enough to see them in their natural habitat.

Jack the working Baboon ( Port Elizabeth, South Africa)
Jack, the working Baboon (1800s).

However in this environment, baboons must be given personal space in regard to conservation and protection regulations. No touching or feeding of baboons is permitted and a safe distance between people and baboons must be practised at all times. Despite their impressively threatening teeth, they are not natural hunters with their teeth serving as a protective measure if provoked. 

Commonly they maintain non-aggressive behavior unless vulnerable, threatened or provoked, under which circumstances baboons would be trying to protect their troop and especially the young. Therefore it is important to be aware of boundaries when encountering these wild animals.

This can be practiced by acknowledging and respecting baboon body language. Fear can be interpreted in acts such as running with a straight and upwards tail, high pitch screaming and expressions of grimace where lips are pulled back to reveal teeth. Therefore being aware of this and respecting a baboon’s space will allow for a peaceful relationship between humans and baboons to exist.

There have been some remarkable baboons. One being Jack, the railroad worker in Southafrica, 1800s. Jack, a young Cape Chacma Baboon, spotted pushing an Oxwagon, was homed by a disbaled train signaler, Jumper. Jack would push Jumper on a trolley to the railroad track where he would signal lanes for oncoming trains to use.

People travelled from afar in hope to see Jack the baboon working on the tracks, and astonishing all who witnessed his intelligence and capability to work alongside human beings. One of many incredible baboons. 

Can we fall in love with these beautiful creatures who feel and observe the world around them so passionately?

Baboons in Africa: Conservation status and efforts to protect them

An animal’s conservation status is measured under stages monitored accordingly as; Least Concern- near threatened – threatened ( non-critical and critical)- extinct. 

Olive Baboon: Least Concern African Wildlife Foundation  
Yellow Baboon: Least Concern  New England primate Conservancy
Guinea Baboon: Near threatened  African Wildlife Foundation
 Hamadryas: Least Concern Filoha Hamadryas Project
Chacma baboon: Least Concern  Baboon Matters Advocacy

You can visit the following conservation websites to donate or find out how to protect Baboons in Africa and raise awareness further. 

The Guinea baboon is currently the only baboon species that has a threatened conservation status. The remaining four baboon species are not officially listed as endangered, despite reduction in troop numbers over the last decade. However they are monitored by rangers to manage the threat posed by humans on baboons’ habitats in reserves open to high annual tourism rates. Baboons that disrupt human settlements are often euthanized instead of relocated or rehabilitated.

This has been evident in decades of human-wildlife conflict and the overriding conflict over wildlife. Through which unstable baboon management guidelines were established. However these guidelines have not always been upheld. Due to the impact of sprawling development affecting areas of baboons, they have become opportunists concerning food, drawn to houses, restaurants, shops ect. This is an effect of tourists feeding baboons despite warnings against this practice. Therefore baboons associate human activity and settlements with the opportunity to get food.

A Cape Chacma Baboon enjoys a tourist’s lunch.

Tour operators have been found guilty of luring baboons with food to impress tourists. This has led to an unnatural co-dependence and conflict between protection efforts, profit, changes in animal behavior and their habitats to be closer to human settlements and roadways, which ultimately threatens their existence. 

Therefore tour operators and tourists have a responsibility to refrain from feeding baboons or encouraging codependency. This will sustain a positive relationship between Baboons in Africa and those who are lucky enough to encounter them.

 Summary 

 Five species of Baboons in Africa exist. They are sensitive and highly intelligent social creatures. Witnessing their social dynamics and care for one another is a special sight to see. We hope you’ll be able to visit them in their natural habitats, where they roam their world, which borders on our own. They are not animals to fear, but rather animals to love and we should honor their existence by promoting their beautiful natures.  

 Fall in love with baboons after reading, ‘ My Friends, The Baboons’ by South African Naturalist, Eugene Marais. 

Want to learn more about the Baboon primates family? Have a look at our article about Where to see Chimpanzee.

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