by Jenni Trethowan

In 2018, Baboon Matters covered a huge range across SA and in our travels, I noticed a number of baboons with missing limbs, in itself, this is not uncommon. But the more I noticed, the more I became aware that a lot of the baboons we “noticed” were missing their right hand.

When we arrived at Augrabies Falls to break one long stretch in the journey, we all immediately went into the reserve and one of the very first animals we spotted, sitting alone on a rock, was a female baboon nursing a badly injured right arm – most of her hand was off, bitten? broken? snared? We will never know.

Adult female baboon at Auragbies Falls nursing badly injured right hand

Adult female baboon at Auragbies Falls nursing badly injured right hand

A few weeks later, we were in Sodwala and there in the distance was a troop running and I immediately spotted that one of the large males was missing his right hand.

Our journeys took us on into Kruger and one of the first baboons we saw was a female again nursing a badly damaged right hand.

Kruger National Park - missing front right hand

Kruger National Park – missing front right hand

Adult female at Kruger National Park - most of her right hand is missing

Adult female at Kruger National Park – most of her right hand is missing

By now my interest was really piqued and when I started going back over our records of injured baboons here on the Cape, the baboons with injured or missing right hands was quite obvious – John Travolta (Tokai), Penny (Da Gama), Crookie (Da Gama), Bafana (Da Gama) and Dodger to name some of the baboons that immediately sprung to mind, but there are other baboons from troops such as Millers Point and Plateau Road who suffered loss of limbs due to electric burns but as those troops were not actively managed at that time accurate records of all the baboon injuries were not kept.

Crookie with missing right hand

Crookie with missing right hand

Penny missing right hand

Penny missing right hand

To me this seemed to be noteworthy, why would baboons appear to have more injuries to their right hand than their left hand, to my thinking it could be because they use their right hands more?

But then my investigations took a different angle; Nikita (Knysna) was snared on her left arm, as was Beatrice (Plateau Road). Did this simply mean that Nikita and Beatrice are left hand dominant? Or that snared baboons are caught on their left side.

Nikita - Snared on her left hand

Nikita – Snared on her left hand

I find the idea fascinating and spoke to Luzanne Kratz from Prime Crew and she immediately confirmed that most of her injured baboons suffering hand or arm injuries have the injury to their right side, except for Deborah who was snared on her left arm.

Adding to the theory of right-hand dominance is the fact that when I notice baboons starting to become angry or frustrated with troop members, they commonly use their right hand to “slap” the ground or as a sign of agitation.

I am not in any way an academic, but I did attempt to read up on this subject through online primatology publications, and it seems that when eating or undertaking manual tasks baboons can easily use both hands, think of them eating seeds off the ground or pulling berries off a tree; they have complete ambidextrous ability.
Likewise, grooming is an intense activity where both hands are used equally, fighting usually engages both hands, although I have witnessed baboons administering a hard slap (using right or left hand???….. now you are asking)

Perhaps next time you are out and about and see baboons pay attention to any baboons who might be missing limbs, which hand they appear to use most (if at all) and please let me know.
It would be really interesting to see if there is some sort of thread to these random observations of ours.

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