Social relationships of mountain baboons: Leadership and affiliation in a non-female-bonded monkey

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Abstract

Instead of close and differentiated relationship among adult females, the accepted norm for savanna baboons, groups of Drakensberg mountain baboons (Papio ursinus) showed strong affiliation of females towards a single male. The same male was usually the decision-making animal in controlling group movements. Lactating or pregnant females focused their grooming on this “leader” male, producing a radially patterned sociogram, as in the desert baboon (P. hamadryas); the leader male supported young animals in the group against aggression and protected them against external threats. Unlike typical savanna baboons, these mountain baboons rarely displayed approach-retreat or triadic interactions, and entirely lacked coalitions among adult females. Both groups studied were reproductively one-male; male-female relationships in one were like those in a unit of hamadryas male at his peak, while the other group resembled the unit of an old hamadryas male, who still led the group, with a male follower starting to build up a new unit and already monoplizing mating. In their mountain environment, where the low population density suggests conditions as harsh for baboons as in deserts, adults in these groups kept unusually large distances apart during ranging; kin tended to range apart, and spacing of adults was greatest at the end of the dry, winter season. These facts support the hypothesis that sparse food is responsible for convergence with hamadryas social organization. It is suggested that all baboons, though matrilocal, are better categorized as “cross-sex-bonded” than “female bonded”.

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