Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Baboon Facts

Baboons are primates (a group of mammals that includes monkeys, apes and humans) and more specifically monkeys.  Adult males can weigh between 15 and 37kg dependant on the species.

How are baboons classified?

Living things can be organised into different groups.  Species that are alike are grouped together.  This is called classification.

Class: Mammals

Order: Primates

Family:  Cercopithecidae

Genus: Papio

Species: Papio cynocephalus (yellow baboon)

                     Papio cynocephalus cynocephalus (Central yellow baboon)

Papio cynocephalus ibeanus (Ibean baboon)

                     Papio cynocephalus kindae (Kinda baboon)

                     Papio anubis (olive baboon)

          Papio hamadryas (Hamadryas baboon)

                    Papio papio (Guinea baboon)

                    Papio ursinus (Chacma baboon)

                    Papio ursinus ursinus (Cape chacma)

                    Papio ursinus griseipes (Gray-footed chacma)

                    Papio ursinus raucana (Ruacana chacma)

Genus: Theropithecus

Species: Theropithecus gelada (the gelada baboon)

Distribution and Habitat

Baboons are found in a wide range of habitats: open savannah, woodland, dry forest and gallery forest and even semi-arid habitats, as long as water is available. The olive baboon is the most widespread and successful species of baboon and ranges across West, Central and East Africa. Where ever it meets the range of another species there is a zone of hybridization and it is possible that its range is expanding at the expense of other baboon species. The yellow baboon is the next most widespread species and occurs in East and Southern Africa, while the chacma baboon is widespread in southern Africa. The chacma baboon occurs from sea level up to 3,000m and can endure freezing conditions and even snow.  The Guinea baboon is endemic to West Africa and is relatively narrowly distributed across parts of Mauritania, Mali, Guinea, Senegal and northern Sierra Leone. The hamadryas baboon occurs in Ethiopia, Eritrea, north-east Sudan and northern Somalia, into Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They are versatile, occurring from sea-level up to 3,000 metres in highland areas. The gelada baboon, however, only occurs in the Ethiopian Highlands including the Simien Mountains, where they co-occur with hamadryas  All species interbreed at their boundaries forming hybrid zones.


Baboons are opportunistic omnivores, with an extremely diverse diet. They exploit a wide variety of foods - a real necessity in highly seasonal environments in which food availability varies in abundance throughout the year.  Their diet includes berries, seeds, pods, grass, shoots, twigs, fruits, bulbs, bark, flowers, roots and also insects. Different species may exploit different items to different extents. For example, Guinea baboons eat mostly fruit, while seeds are a particularly important component of the olive baboon diet. Although all species have a broad diet, they are also highly selective, choosing plant parts high in lipid and protein content and avoiding those that are toxic.

Baboons also hunt opportunistically and eat meat. They are known to hunt small antelope and other mammalian species, fish and reptiles such as tortoise. Baboons raid crops such as maize, cassava and sweet potato and exploit human rubbish pits in protected areas.

In Senegal, Guinea baboons and chimpanzees dig holes in sandy river beds close to stagnant stands of water in order to drink clean water free of pathogens. Guinea baboons will also follow fire to catch invertebrates and small vertebrates.

Ecology and Behaviour

Male baboons are powerful fighters and show little fear of larger animals, including humans.  They have been known to successfully take on leopards, their worse enemies.  Visual communication is important to deter both attacks from predators and fighting among male baboons, which can lead to costly injuries.  Baboons have many signals to communicate threat, including intense staring, eyelid displays, ground slapping, audible chewing, teeth grinding, yawning (to show formidable canine teeth), eyebrow-raising, ear flattening and shaking of rocks and branches.

Most baboons live in hierarchical ‘troops’ of five to 250 animals (most commonly 40-80) which are socially based on a core of females and may include several transient males.  Baboon males leave their birth group, usually before they reach sexual maturity, whereas females stay in the same group their whole life.  Using vocal exchanges, baboons can determine dominance relations between individuals. 

Females reach reproductive maturity around five years of age, and a female first gives birth around six years.  Baboons can breed at any time of the year, depending on food supply.  Male rank has a direct impact on how many offspring he can sire. Females can typically give birth every other year, usually to a single infant, after a six month gestation.  The young baboon weighs approximately one kilogram and is black when born, developing more distinctive colouring as they mature. The females tend to be the primary caretaker of the young, although several females will share the duties for all of their offspring


Despite their high population numbers and adaptability, many baboons are killed each year due to conflict, hunting pressure for bushmeat and to capture babies for the illegal pet trade in many countries. Hunting pressure on baboons is increasing in some parts of their range and could reach unsustainable levels if it is not curtailed.

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