Protecting South Africa’s Baboons

Baboons are found in nature reserves and other undeveloped areas all around South Africa and are part of the wildlife heritage of the country. Fascinating and entertaining, they are best observed from a distance or from the safety of a vehicle and should be treated with caution and respect – we are, after all, intruding on their natural habitat when we visit South Africa’s nature reserves. Even when they are found in urban areas, it is generally because these urban areas are taking over territory that was once inhabited by wildlife, including baboons.

Baboons in South Africa are Chacma baboons (Papio ursinus),with the species found in the southern regions being the Cape Chacma (Papio ursinus ursinus) and in the northern regions of the country being the Gray-footed Chacma (Papio ursinus griiseipes). The Chacma is one of the largest of the baboon species, with males being significantly larger than females. They have distinctive downward sloping faces, with the males sporting canines up to 5 cm in length.

Baboons are very social creatures and generally live in hierarchical groups with several adult males, adult females and offspring. Female social ranking is inherited and accepted, but dominance among the males of the group is frequently challenged, and it is not uncommon for dominant males to kill any babies sired by the previously dominant male. In addition to using a range of sounds, baboons communicate with a range of facial expressions, gestures and body language.

As humans continue to encroach on the habitat of South Africa’s baboons, these often misunderstood Old World monkeys find themselves at a serious disadvantage, and this is where the work of various conservation groups is invaluable. Based in the Western Cape, the Baboon Matters Trust defends the rights of baboons on the Cape Peninsula, as well as across South Africa, through education and awareness, rehabilitation of injured and orphaned baboons, advocating for conservation and animal rights, and providing training to groups that monitor and manage the activities of baboons in various areas. The Baboon Matters Trust supports the philosophy of renowned British primatologist and UN Messenger of Peace Jane Goodall who said: “Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall they be saved. The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.”