Chacma baboons are frequently encountered on safari at Tshukudu Game Lodge and need no introduction, as they are well known to all. Not only are they remarkably intelligent, but a lot of fun to watch as they interact with, and groom one another and explore new areas and objects in the wild. The word “chacma” is derived from the Hottentot (Khoikhoi) name for baboon, viz choachamma or choa kamma. They are two of the most common primates found in South Africa, are known for their huge, prominent canine teeth and for being some of the longest and largest species of monkey in Africa. Males reaches a weight of 21 to 45kg and females around 12 to 25kg.
Chacma baboons are largely omnivorous and highly social species that live in groups of four to 200 individuals. Troops are typically comprised of around 30 to 40 baboons. They spend most of their daylight hours foraging on the ground and in the trees and feed on wild fruits, seeds and insects, even scorpions, and on occasion even the flesh of small mammals and birds. At night they sleep in trees or on cliffs where they are safe from predators. They walk on all four legs with their tails held in an arch, and the young cling to the backs or abdomens of their mothers when a troop moves from one place to another. Within a troop, adult males form a dominance hierarchy that is established and maintained by fighting and aggression.
Being quite social creatures, they have a number of different vocal ways of communicating, along with the visual behaviour that usually accompanies it. Lions, leopards, hyenas and sometimes caracals are their typical enemies, although baboons never go down without a fight and can be very aggressive. It is a known fact that they would viciously counter-attack their predators when threatened. Aggressive behaviour is associated with staring fixedly at an individual, displaying canine teeth and thrusting head and body postures that may be accompanied by shaking of grass and tree branches. Quarrels with enemies can sometimes be heard during the night when males howl as a form of alarm call, and hiss and scream when encountered by a leopard and faced with the task of protecting the troop.
Ten more interesting facts about Chacma baboons:
- Females may carry and continue to protect a dead infant for days after its death.
- Troops may form temporary alliances to deter predators such as lions.
- There are reports of “lamb snatching” (for feeding on) during the annual impala lambing season.
- Juveniles are weaned from between 6-8 months.
- Longevity is around 20 years in the wild.
- The canine teeth in adult baboons are larger than those of lions.
- The rank of a female is inherited from its mother and remains constant.
- Roosting sites at night are tall trees or rocky outcrops and they choose several roosting areas.
- The presence of cheek pouches allows temporary food storage.
- Running speeds of up to 45kph can be achieved.