While driving slowly back to Satara Rest Camp along the S100 one evening, we came across a mixed group of Impalas and Baboons peacefully whiling away the final minutes of sunlight at Shibotwana waterhole. It is then that we noticed a Black-backed Jackal moving through the group, obviously looking for an easy meal. The Jackal spied a young Baboon and gave it a little more attention than the Baboon wanted; it shrieked and set off running towards its mother and then things took a very quick turn for the worse for the Jackal, who managed to escape a serious hiding by the skin of his teeth!
We’re still enjoying our holiday in the Drakensberg very much, and it seems we’re not the only ones taking a break!
Papio ursinus ursinus
The Chacma Baboon is the biggest wild primate occurring in South Africa. Males can weigh up to 50kg, while females are more lightly built and weigh up to 28kg.
Baboons can be found in virtually any habitat, provided there is a reliable supply of drinking water and safe places to sleep at night (usually in the form of tall trees, cliffs or caves). They are equally easy to please when it comes to their diet, taking fruit, berries, grass, leaves, flowers, mushrooms, roots and tubers, insects, scorpions, snails, eggs, small birds, reptiles and mammals (including the lambs of antelope) and, along the coast, molluscs, crayfish, crabs, etc. Unfortunately they quickly learn that humans and their waste is an easy source of food, and in many reserves, towns and cities have become quite adept at raiding human habitations.
Chacma Baboons keep to large troops, some over 300 animals in size, in which a strict hierarchy is maintained, sometimes through violent fights. This dominance hierarchy determines where an individual will feature when it comes to access to food, water, sleeping spots and mating partners. They also forge alliances and friendships strengthened by mutual grooming. Lower ranking adult males take turns to act as sentinels on the look-out for danger. Chacma Baboons are diurnal and mainly terrestrial and troops can cover as much as 15km in a day while foraging. Because they have such keen senses Baboons are often accompanied by other herbivores.
Female Baboons give birth to single young (rarely twins) at any time of the year. Newborn babies hang from their mother’s tummy when she’s walking, while older babies ride on her back like a jockey. Youngsters remain dependant on their mother until they are at least a year old. Females remain in their maternal troop when they reach adulthood, while young males join other troops. All animals in the troop are extremely protective of babies, and when attacked by a predator the large males will usually launch a counter attack. Leopards are the main threat to adult baboons, but they are not easy prey by any means. Chacma Baboons have a life expectancy of up to 45 years in the wild.
The IUCN regards the Chacma Baboon as being of least concern in conservation terms. Despite being persecuted as vermin in farming areas and suburbs, the Chacma Baboon remains common and widespread, and is one of the few large mammals still regularly encountered outside the formal conservation areas in South Africa. They can be found in virtually every nature reserve and national park in the country, but in our experience they are most easily viewed at the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, Garden Route National Park, Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, Kruger National Park, Pilanesberg National Park and uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park. Chacma Baboons also occur in Angola, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho.
People will always find the primates entertaining, and the baboon troops in Golden Gate Highlands National Park is no exception. However, when they come foraging between the accommodation units and in the camping site at Glen Reenen Rest Camp they can really cause havoc. They’ll inspect every open window to see what’s inside a car, tent or hut, and will help themselves to whatever they find that even vaguely resembles food, while the naughty little ones can cause quite a lot of damage to property and structures with their rough-and-tumble play.
The sun has just lifted its head above the Pilanesberg’s hills, and this male baboon is surveying the area before the troop sets off foraging. Having settled onto his comfortable seat, all he seems to need now is his morning coffee!
Our end-of-year 2015 holidays were absolutely packed to the brim. Apart from our ten-day visit to the Kruger National Park (read more about our time at Lower Sabie, Olifants and Shingwedzi in December), we also made day trips to five other reserves, and will be sharing photos from those (except Suikerbosrand, which we introduced in a post all of its own) daily through the month of February, in a series we call “a month of monochrome memories”.
Driving around the Kruger National Park, especially along one of the major rivercourses, you’re bound to come across a troop or two of baboons. Watching their behaviour and especially their human-like interactions is extremely entertaining.
We encountered this little group one afternoon along the Shingwedzi River, during our September 2014 visit. While the big male watched, sometimes with what seemed like considerable concern for their well-being, the energetic little ones were clambering into a small tree and jumping down again, over and over again, their happiness clearly written all over their faces…