The word “chacma” is derived from the Hottentot (Khoikhoi) name for baboon whereas the scientific name, Papio ursinus, is derived from the French words “papion” for baboon and “ursinus” for “bear like”!
Baboons are indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa and are found widely throughout the southern half of the continent. The Chacma Baboon is the only species found in the Kruger National Park and are often encountered strolling down the road as filmed in this video clip by Kruger South Safaris guests whilst on a game drive with Open Vehicle Safari Guide Felicity Carey:
Baboons are omnivorous and their natural food consists of fruits, grasses, seeds, bark, and roots, but they also have a taste for meat. They will eat birds, rodents, and even the young of larger mammals, such as antelopes.
Unfortunately, people deliberately feed the baboons, which has led to an association between humans and food despite Kruger National Park Rules and Regulations clearly stating that feeding the animals is prohibited. They have been known to jump into and onto passing vehicles looking for food…and boldly approaching unsuspecting visitors in the many unfenced picnic spots to “steal” theirs!
Baboons use human-made roads and, to a lesser degree, animal paths, to allow them to effectively 'commute' to and from their group's sleeping site which will be an elevated position where they can take refuge from leopards who hunt them at night. Lions also prey upon adult and subadult baboons foraging along the ground during the daytime. This next video clip shows the unusual encounter between a baboon and a lion cub filmed by Open Vehicle Safari guide Kurt Shultz:
Baboons tend to give birth at night. The troop is on the move traveling and foraging for food on the ground most of the day, whereas it is settled in the greater safety of trees or cliffs at night. Typically, a female will only give birth to one offspring at a time, after a gestation period of around six months. When a female baboon is ready to mate, her genitals engorge and become bright pink in colour indicating her condition. Her entire rump swells during this time and males show great interest.
The baby is helpless, but they are born with their eyes open and the infant is well furred. The newborn baboon has an ingrained gripping reflex, and is able to hold itself against its mothers’ belly with tightly grasping hands and feet almost immediately after birth. Infants ride against the mother’s stomach for the first several weeks, and then begin to ride on her back, usually in an upright position like a little jockey.
Grooming, feeding together, and general socializing are key to the well-being of the baboon troop. Baboons are very vocal and communicate not only with about 40 different distinct vocalizations but with numerous hand and arm gestures and very expressive faces.
They have very mobile lips, cheeks and brows, and have distinct expressions for submission, begging and initiating play. Baboons make allot of eye contact with each other and are very affectionate, holding hands, hugging, and of course, mutually grooming.
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