The chacma baboon is one of Africa’s most intelligent and entertaining mammals. The name “chacma” is derived from the Khoi name for baboon – choachamma or choa kamma. They have a well-ordered and well-developed social order with a wide variety of social behaviours, including a dominance hierarchy, collective foraging, adoption of young by females and friendship pairings. They are widespread throughout South Africa.
Because they are always on the lookout for potential dangers and predators they are difficult to hunt. Sentries posted on high ground or tall trees will be quick to sound the alarm at the approach of any perceived danger. The real challenge to a bowhunter will be to stalk up close enough for a shot or induce a baboon to approach close enough to offer a shot from a concealed position.
Chacma baboons are large primates with a dog-like face, prominent muzzle and long canines, which may be as long as 5 cm. A mature male measures 1.5 metres from head to tail and weighs on average 33 kg, but can weigh as much as 45 kg. Females are smaller. The fur is coarse, the colour may be grey to nearly black with grey-brown being the most common. There is a patch of rough hair on the nape of the neck. The tail is long (up to 84 cm in length) and is held in a characteristic arch. Males have a pad of naked hard grey skin on the buttocks. The female’s buttockpads are pink in colour and become bright and swollen when they are on heat. Baboon have long limbs – the front being longer than the hind – and have hands and feet with long, dexterous fingers. Baboon are active during the day, spending most of the time foraging. They sleep in trees, cliffs or where they are safe from predators at night.
Chacma baboon are widely distributed in South Africa and occupy a wide range of habitats including savannah, woodland, steppes, sub-desert (Kalahari), grassy alpine slopes of the Drakensberg, Cape Fynbos and succulent Karoo. They require large trees or cliffs in which to take shelter at night and are water dependent. The availability of water can determine their range.
Behaviour and habits
Chacma baboons live in social groups called troops of between 30 and 100 individuals. They have a complex social structure. Troops are comprised of adult males, adult females and their offspring. Social interaction is regulated by a dominance hierarchy. Female ranking within the troop is inherited through the mother and remains relatively fixed, while male ranking is often in flux, especially when the dominant male is replaced. Infanticide is quite common and newly dominant males will often try to kill the offspring of previously dominant males. Orphaned baboons whose mothers have disappeared or died are often too small to care for themselves and will sometimes be adopted and cared for by a member of the troop. Baboon will also, on occasion, carry a dead infant with them for days on end. Both males and females care for infants, and care does not depend on the infant’s sex. Additionally, all caregivers are pre-reproductive, only four or five years of age. Baboon have a well-developed system of communication comprising body language, facial expressions, vocalizations and touch. Young baboon are just like small children – full of energy, mischievous and playful. It can provide hours of entertainment watching them at play.
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