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Baboon Troop Develops Unique Culture

by Ron Kurtus (7 May 2005)

Different groups within an animal species will sometimes develop their own unique cultural traits or ways of behaving.

One illustration of this happened when disease removed aggressive males from a baboon troop in Kenya, Africa. The remaining baboons developed a new culture or group behavior that was different from most other baboon groups.

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Aggressive baboons died

In the 1980s, a troop of olive baboons—a subspecies of savanna baboons—in Kenya, Africa was ruled by a number of dominant males who were quite aggressive. Their society was argumentative and truculent, which seems typical from observations of baboon groups. It was assumed that this behavior was genetic and universal among all baboons.

One day, these aggressive males fought with a group of males from another troop over who would be able to forage through a tourist lodge garbage dump. Unfortunately, they ate discarded meat that had been tainted with bovine tuberculosis. Soon afterwards, all those males died.

Females took over

The remaining males were relatively meek and did not participate in the fight and garbage dump raid. They were now in charge of the troop. But they also were overshadowed by the more dominant females in the troop for the true leadership. These females preferred to use affection and mutual grooming to maintain troop unity. The culture of the troop became more relaxed, with a minimal amount of fighting and aggressive actions.

Culture ingrained

Later, when outside males joined the troop, the culture had been so ingrained that the new members were convinced to follow along in this unique behavior or social ethos of the group. In general, there was much less stress in this society than in similar baboon troops where aggressive behavior was the rule.

Summary

Baboon society is typically argumentative, especially when rules by aggressive males. Decimation of the aggressive males in a specific troop of olive baboons in Kenya, allowed dominant females to take over the leadership. They developed a new, relaxed culture that was unique to baboons. This culture became ingrained in the troop, even when new members joined it.


Every group can change for the better


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