Geographic Distribution & Habitat:
Of the five baboon species, olive baboons have the largest range. They are found all across Central Africa, from Mali in the west to Tanzania in the east. They can be found in forests, as well as on the savannah.
Olive baboons typically stand about 25 in tall when they are on all fours. Females weigh about 30 lb (14 kg), while males average 50 lb (23 kg).
Olive baboons’ coats are somewhat olive-brown in color, which is why they get their name. But, perhaps the most striking feature of baboons is their face and body. With a dog-like muzzle and four-legged stance, olive baboons also earn their scientific name, “Papio anubis”— after the Egyptian god, Anubis, who had the head of a dog.
Olive baboons are not very picky. They’ll eat leaves, grass, insects, birds, rodents, gazelles, and, in some places, even scorpions or other primates! This flexibility has enabled olive baboons to live in a wide range of habitats. But, because they’ll eat almost anything, they often come into conflict with humans. Garbage cans and dumps might hold secret, tasty snacks for baboons, but humans don’t appreciate animals rummaging through their trash. Sadly, this does not always end well for the baboons, since humans might turn toward violence to drive the animals away.
Behavior & Lifestyle:
With troops ranging from 15 to over 100 individuals, olive baboons live in a highly hierarchical society. Females inherit their rank from their mothers, which means a little infant could be more highly ranked than an older female, simply because she has a powerful mother! Males are a bit more on their own; unlike females, they move to a new group when they grow up, and they have to compete with other males to earn their rank and access to resources. Infants are very reliant on their mothers at first, clinging to their stomachs or backs, but as they get older they might venture a little farther away. Young females who do not have offspring of their own will often help “babysit” infants so that they can practice their mothering skills. In the wild, olive baboons may live to be 20 to 25 years old.
Threats & Conservation:
Olive baboons are widespread throughout Africa, and they’re currently listed as being of “Least Concern"*. However, habitat loss is driving baboons closer and closer to humans, which can be dangerous for everyone involved. The bushmeat trade and climate change—including more frequent droughts—may also threaten baboons.
*Conservation status update May 2016
What’s in a Greeting?:
To add to their dog-like characteristics, olive baboons may greet each other by touching noses or by smacking their lips. These are considered friendly gestures, since there are many less friendly greetings that they could choose—such as showing their threateningly-large canines!
Baboons can walk about 4 mi (6 km) in one day as they forage, and these long treks—combined with the hot sun—can take a toll on everyone in the troop. Around midday, they will usually stop to rest in the shade. These breaks give infants time to play and adults time to rest. Grooming helps individuals strengthen their friendships with others—and it keeps everyone clean!
Primates communicate in many different ways, and baboons are no exception. Just as in humans, facial expressions can say a lot in the baboon world. Olive baboons will raise their eyebrows to express annoyance, yawn to show that they’re anxious, and stare to threaten others. So, even though we use some of the same expressions, it might take us some time to adjust to baboon life, since we might interpret things very differently!!
Olive Baboon feeding video courtesy of ARKive.org