Baby Baboons- Article by Gareth Jones
BABY BABOONS OF THE NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK
Not too long ago, much wildlife roamed freely in the Nairobi area as there was very little human development, however, in the last 100 years the city has grown dramatically and most of the species that were saved now reside inside the Nairobi National Park. However, as Nairobi has so many large trees, many arboreal species have continued to move over a larger area. Some of these ‘roaming’ species include several species of monkeys and olive baboons.
Some time ago, late on a warm afternoon while driving near the main gate, I saw a large troop of olive baboons. They were very relaxed, so I switched off the vehicle and watched them for a while. It is well worth the time to sit and watch a baboon troop interact, as much of what they do can be almost “humanlike” and very amusing! The tiny babies cling tightly to the bodies of the mothers and young baboons are always inventing some new game in a tree, or chasing each other on the ground. There was one particular tiny baby that was bolder than the others and became very excited when the older babies played. Suddenly a slightly older youngster decided to grab a piece of a stick and challenge all the other baby baboons to play “catch me if you can”, obviously the slightly older youngster ran rings around the wobbly-legged newborn babies. But what impressed me, and was also very interesting was that the babies all tried to actually catch him with their undeveloped bodies. This particular little baby continually wanted to play with the other older babies, but as he did not as yet have the muscular development to move as smoothly and quickly as the older babies, the result was just a “jump for joy” up and down with a happy expression on its face, much like a sports fan watching his favourite team performing. Suddenly a faster older youngster victoriously ran past him with the stick, and sat in the road biting his “victory prize stick”. I believe this type of “game activity” while occupying their day as seemingly having fun, is actually a vital part of the rapid physical development that they all need in the wild to ensure that they can respond to dangerous situations.
Olive baboons are very intelligent and clearly understand that human habitat areas (like the KWS main gate and Office zone), are sometimes much safer than being in the wild, to try and avoid predators such as leopards in the park. They have thick furry coats, and it is well worth the time to sit and watch a troop interact! Baboon antics are also particularly interesting to humans because many of their habit traits are almost “human-like” and therefore are often amusing and fascinating, especially when the babies play so innocently, helping them to develop into strong adults that can fend for themselves in the wild. It should be noted that Kenya has 2 sub-species of baboons, namely the yellow baboon with sparser body hair in the drier areas like Tsavo, Meru & Shaba, and the Olive baboon predominantly found in the higher cooler forested areas of Kenya including the Nairobi National Park.
Next time you visit the park, if you find a troop of baboons, sit a watch them for a while, it’s really worth it, especially baby watching!