12 October 2010
Lilongwe Wildlife Centre is home to two yellow baboon troops, which have been under close scrutiny of late, since they are being prepared for release back into the wild where they belong. Over the last couple of years the troops have been built up as the result of various rescues and are each led by an alpha male – Buddy and Cornelius. Many of the individuals taken in by the Centre were orphaned or injured, or had been rescued from captivity or street vendors.
The pre-release team has initiated the first of many steps required to successfully integrate the two troops into one large troop, which, if successful, will increase their survival chances when they are released into the wild. Before the team can begin integrating the troops, they need to have a good understanding of the dominance hierarchies of both troops. With the help of the primate carers, two of the volunteers have been conducting an extensive hierarchy study of Buddy’s and Cornelius’ troops. This has involved hours of behavioural observations and data collection, from early morning to late afternoon. They have been looking at interactions between individuals, particularly grooming, mating, mounting, mate guarding and play. Most important however, has been feeding time, as the order in which they access food is one of the best indicators of dominance hierarchies in baboon troops. Once they have enough data, they can start implementing the integration plan. It is vital that the team takes the troop dynamics into account to avoid injuries wherever possible, as baboons are incredibly strong animals and can cause serious injury to each other. For this reason, Buddy and Cornelius (the two alpha males) will not be able to be in the same troop. We will try and move as many baboons as possible from Cornelius’ troop into Buddy’s, as Buddy is the larger and stronger of the two. Hopefully, once the primate release programme starts up again, we will be able to release Buddy’s troop into Kasungu National Park. Cornelius will stay behind with the remaining baboons that couldn’t join Buddy’s troop, and we can gradually build up this troop with rescued individuals until they are also ready to be released.
Once the integration is underway, it will be all hands on deck and our volunteers will be busy monitoring the baboons, making behavioural observations and alerting staff to any dramas that arise. Fingers crossed all goes well! We’ll keep you posted.
To find out more about volunteering at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, go to http://www.bornfree.org.uk/get-involved/voluntary-work/overseas/