Baboon Matters Trust
About Baboons in South Africa
Baboon Matters Trust

Understanding Troop Hierarchy

Understanding Troop Hierarchy

A baboon troop is a complex and fascinating hierarchy, where males are dominant but their ranking is tenuous and changes often, while females inherit their social status from their mothers.

Baboons are incredibly social beings, and just like human families, they comfort and support each other, and squabble and fight!

Infanticide in Chacma males is common compared to other baboon species, as newly dominant males will often attempt to kill infants fathered by the ousted alpha male – he does this because without an infant to suckle, females will go into oestrous (ovulate) and he will be able to father his own offspring.

When feeding, its every baboon for itself – they do not share food and a dominant animal will help itself to food from a less dominant one. When humans feed baboons we are essentially telling them that we rank lower than them.


Baboon No.1 – the Alpha Male

• The alpha is the dominant male in the troop. He can weigh up to 40kgs, and has earned his position by aggressively fending off other male contenders for the crown
• He displays his long, sharp canines, longer than a lion’s, in a “yawn” and a loud “wahoo!” bark to communicate his social position
• He is a gentle and caring father, and will watch over and fiercely protect the females and infants in his troop
• He jealously guards his right to mate with receptive females
• He keeps strict discipline in the troop – when alpha males are killed in the mistaken believe that it will stop a troop raiding, it causes chaos within the troop and can result in smaller, less manageable splinter troops forming raiding parties
• Troops are more stable and less stressed if the turn-over of males is less frequent, with long-standing alpha males

Not a rogue baboon, a dispersing male

• At around 7 years old, the mature male leaves his natal troop and attempts to join another troop – this is vital for genetic mixing between troops
• If a dispersing male joins another troop and ousts the alpha male, he may kill the offspring of the previous alpha. This is called infanticide. He does this because if a female is not suckling her young, she will go into her oestrus cycle again and he will be able to mate with her to produce his own offspring
• He is vulnerable without a troop to support him, is often seen as a “rogue”, and is an easy target for those who do not understand his important role in healthy baboon society.

Moms ‘n Tots

• Females typically stay with their natal troop their entire lives. They are born into their position within the troop, and if they are high-ranking, they will hand their position on to their daughters.
• They form strong bonds and friendships within a troop, and groups of females with babies tend to stick together to give each other support and share child-care duties
• Females reach maturity at around 5 years old, and weigh between 12 – 17kgs
• “Pink swelling” indicates she is in her reproductive cycle and is receptive to mating, particularly with the alpha male
• After a 6 month gestation period she will give birth to an infant, who will cling to her belly for protection and easy access to milk
• Infants are the object of much care and attention by the whole troop – so much so that new mothers are able to trade grooming sessions or choice feeding spots in return for allowing other females to get close to the infant
• At around 3 months baby will be riding on Mom’s back, jockey-style, enjoying the view and trying solid foods like grass and flowers
• Babies are fully weaned by about 1 year old

Juveniles – the troop clowns

• Juveniles hang out together in large groups of similar age. Like human children, they love to play boisterously, and watching them in action is a real treat
• They make excellent baby-sitters for newly-weaned babies, and will protect them if a fight breaks out between adults

Those awkward teenage years: Sub-adults

• Braver than juvies, sub-adults are pushing boundaries but still need the protection of the troop

• Females reach maturity at around 5 years old. Males take a year or two longer – a rapid growth spurt results in long, gangly legs, a longer snout, and heaps of attitude. Gradually his chest and neck will fill out, canines will grow long and sharp, and he starts looking like an adult male. At this point he may choose to leave his natal troop to join another troop


Jenni Trethowan
084 413 9482




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