baboon, any of the large, powerful, ground-living monkeys of the genus Papio, also called dog-faced monkeys. Five subspecies live in Africa, with one species extending into the Arabian peninsula. They have close-set eyes under heavy brow ridges, long, heavy muzzles, powerful jaws, and long, sharp upper canine teeth. Their fur is thick, and in some species males have a mane about the head and shoulders. The heavy tail is of moderate length. The buttock pads, or ischial callosities, are thick and brightly colored; sitting is the favored position for feeding and sleeping. Baboons live in brush, grassland, or rocky country, foraging on the ground for roots, seeds, fruits, insects, and small animals, including other monkeys. Depending on the species, they may gather in troops of 350 individuals or more for protection at sleep sites on rock outcroppings. Baboons are powerful fighters and show little fear of larger animals, including humans. They can successfully take on leopards, their worst enemies. Most species travel in groups of 40 to 80, which are socially based on a core of females and may include several transient males. Some subspecies, like the hamadryas baboon ( Papio hamadryas hamadryas ), form harem groups led by a dominant male and have a highly developed social order. Baboons are subtle, intelligent animals and can become dangerous nuisances if they learn to raid fields or houses for easy food. The gelada ( Theropithecus gelada ) of Ethiopia is closely related to the baboon. It has a bright pink face and buttock pads and a tufted tail. Males use characteristic facial movements and barks to control harems of females during daily foraging. Also closely related are the wildly colorful mandrill and the plainer drill, both forest-dwellers, and the mangabeys. Baboons are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Primates, family Cercopithecidae.
See S. C. Strum, Almost Human (1987).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.