Group composition of Guinea baboons (Papio papio) at a water place suggests a fluid social organization


Baboon social systems are among the most studied in primates. Solid knowledge of the hamadryas and savannah baboon systems has accumulated, leading to a dichotomic view of baboon social systems. Hamadryas baboons live in multilayered troops based on 1-male units whereas savannah baboons live in multimale multifemale groups based on a network of related females. Less attention has been paid to their West African congenerics, the Guinea baboons, Papio papio. To fill this gap, in 2007 we initiated a long-term study of a baboon troop ranging in the Niokolo Koba National Park in southeastern Senegal. Earlier studies suggested a tendency for a multilayered social system in Guinea baboons, similar to the hamadryas baboon organization. Therefore, as a first approach to analyzing variability in party size and composition, we observed members of the troop crossing an open area from a fixed point for 3 mo during the dry and wet seasons. We counted individuals and recorded changes in composition of both arriving and departing parties. Party size and composition were highly variable on both a daily and a seasonal basis; 45.9% of the arriving parties changed in composition while crossing the open area, either splitting into smaller parties or fusing into larger ones, suggesting a fluid organization. Our data support the existence of neither a hamadryas baboon-like multilayered social organization nor a stable medium-sized multimale multifemale group as in savannah baboons. In light of our data we may need to revise the dichotomic view of baboon social systems and include space for greater variability of their social systems.

International Journal of Primatology 32: 652-668