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Abstract

The study troop of chacma baboons (Papio cynocephalus ursinus) at Mkuzi Game Reserve, Zululand, South-Africa, comprised of about 76 members that split into two new troops. The events leading to this troop fission will be described and its possible causes will be discussed.

Troop fission among baboons is generally attributed to the withdrawal of low-ranking females from the main group, as a result of the cost of food competition and its effect on their reproductive success. At Mkuzi, no evidence for food competition among females was recorded in terms of rank-related time spent feeding or other time—budget components, feeding-bout length, diet composition or context of female aggression. Moreover, no evidence for rank-related differential reproductive success was found in terms of inter-birth intervals or infant survival. Female mortality was, however, related to dominance rank, with circumstantial evidence suggesting that cause of mortality was predation by leopards. Rate of female disappearances, aggression levels among females, and the percentage of time they spent in proximity to other adult troop members increased after fission.

Relatively short inter-birth intervals and extremely low infant mortality rate at Mkuzi resulted in a small number of receptive females at any one time, and therefore in high costs of male sexual competition as expressed in the high levels of male aggression and woundings, both reduced after fission.

It is suggested that this troop fission may have been initiated by the resident males, triggered by the high cost of sexual competition, and forced on the females, who were, consequently, subjected to higher risk of predation. The troop fission was preceded by a long process of increasing tendency for sub-trooping. It was initiated by the four resident males who kept a large distance apart from each other, herded oestrous female associates away from others and were followed by other females. The females generally tended to stay close to associates, males and females. These parties were followed by the peripheral and immigrant males who had no female associates, and eventually two distinct daughter troops were formed.