Geographic Distribution & Habitat: An Old World monkey native to the Horn of Africa -- especially Ethiopia -- and the southwestern tip of the Arabian Pininsula, the hamadryas baboon lives in the northernmost of baboon territories, and is the only native nonhuman primate species in the Arabian Peninsula. Its range once included Egypt, but it is now extinct in that country. Its habitat is semi-desert areas with cliffs for sleeping and finding water.
Size: Substantial in size, males measure up to 31 inches (80 cm) and weigh 44-66 pounds (20–30 kg). Females are considerably smaller, measuring 16-18 inches (40-45 cm) and weighing 22-33 pounds (10–15 kg). In each gender, the tail adds an additional 16-24 inches (40–60 cm) to the length.
Appearance: In addition to the size difference, males and females bear differences in coloration and appearance: the coarse fur of males is silver-white with a pronounced cape (mane and mantle) which they develop around the age of 10 years, while the females are brown and capeless. Infants are dark in coloration and become lighter in coloring after age 1. The male has large canine teeth. Both have hairless faces ranging in color from red to tan to a dark brown.The female develops colorful and pronounced sexual swellings during estrus, and the skin over the rump becomes bright red during pregnancy. In each, the tail has a tufted tip.
Diet: Opportunistic feeders, hamadryas baboons are omnivors that indulge in a wide variety of foods, including grass, fruit, roots and tubers, seeds, leaves, buds and insects. They hunt small mammals, including hares and young gazelles.
Behavior & Lifestyle: The hamadryas baboon is primarily terrestrial, but sleeps in trees or on cliffs at night. They have a multilevel society with four tiers:
- The Harem: Most social interaction occurs within small one-male and up to ten-females harems, guarded and led by the male. A harem typically includes a younger "follower" male who may be related to the leader.
- The Clan: Two or more harems form clans. Within clans, the dominant males of the units are typically close relatives and have an age-related dominance hierarchy.
- The Band: Two to four clans form bands of up to 200 individuals which travel and sleep as a group. Both males and females rarely leave their bands. The dominant males prevent infants and juveniles from interacting with infants and juveniles from other bands. Adult male leaders of the bands may fight with one another over food and other resources. Bands contain solitary males that are not harem leaders or followers and they move freely within the band.
- The Troop: Several bands may come together to form a troop. Several bands in a troop also often share a cliff-face where they sleep.
Threats & Conservation:
The IUCN categorizes the hamadryas baboon's conservation status as "least concern"*. Because of their semi-desert habitat, they have few natural predators, but, among those they do have, they include apex predators like hyenas and leopards. The greater risks to their futures include habitat loss due to major agricultural expansion and irrigations projects, as well as transformations of field and pasturelands.
*Conservation status update May 2016
Hamadryas baboons sometimes cross-breed with olive baboons (Papio anubis) in regions of Ethiopia where their ranges overlap.
Hamadryas baboons were considered sacred in ancient Egypt. Because of this, they are still today referred to as the "Sacred Baboon".
They are depicted in ancient Egyptian art, as seen in this statue from 1400 BC, representing the god Toth, an important and powerful deity that was considered the scribe of the gods.
Video of Hamadryas Baboons' Life
Uploaded to YouTube on Jan 6, 2010, this is a video of the hamadryas baboon excerpted from the BBC's "Life" documentary series.
Written by Debra Curtin, October 2015.