What are Baboons? - Mating, Diet & Facts

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Baboons are some of the largest monkeys, and definitely some of the most interesting looking. In this lesson, we'll discuss some basic baboon facts, as well as what they eat, and aspects of their mating.

What are Baboons?

Of the many types of monkeys that exist in the world, baboons are some of the largest. They are interesting looking creatures with long faces, furry bodies, and ridiculously cute babies. There are five species of baboons, and we find them all living in Africa and Arabia. But even though their range isn't wide, their habitats are very diverse. They mostly prefer savanna and woodland habitats but are also found in tropical forests. One species even lives in cliffs along the Red Sea.

Baboons are beautiful creatures.
Adult baboon

Baboons range in size from 30 to a whopping 80 pounds. They range from 20 to 40 inches long (not counting the tail) and can live to about 30 years of age.

Food & Socialization

Baboons are very social animals that do everything from sleeping to eating to socializing in groups. These groups might be anywhere from a dozen to hundreds of individuals and do not have an even distribution of males and females. There are usually twice as many females as males, as males leave the group as they mature. Baboons are Old World monkeys, which are different from New World monkeys because they are found in Africa, are larger, have a tail but cannot use it for gripping, and have padded rear ends for sitting. Some of these pads even come in a variety of vibrant colors!

Rear-end pads on a baboon.
Baboon pads

Baboons are generalists, which means they eat a lot of different things. Birds and rodents, fruits and seeds, bark and roots, grasses and leaves, insects, shellfish, berries, and blossoms are all on the list. They also like to eat crops planted by humans nearby. And in some cases, will eat the young of large mammals such as antelopes.


Baboons are similar to people in that they mate throughout the year. And much like a human woman, they have a menstrual cycle once a month; female baboons have a cyclical period called estrus that lasts 30 to 40 days. This is the time that they are sexually active and ready to mate. Remember those rear-end pads baboons have? When female baboons are in estrus these swell in order to attract males. However, these swellings are only present about half the time of estrus.

Baboons are very social animals.
baboon group

If there are multiple males in a group of baboons, a higher-ranking male may monopolize a female or group of females in a consortship. Another strategy is for a group of other males to form a coalition that may disrupt the good thing this higher-up male has going and break up his group of females.

Female baboons are able to start reproducing around the ages of four to five, but may not give birth to their first baby until five to seven years of age. Gestation, or development in the womb, lasts five and a half to six months. And a female may not have another pregnancy for 12 to 40 months - that's one to three years!

Baboon Infanticide

One thing that male baboons are known to practice is infanticide or killing of young baboons. It's not their own offspring that they are killing, it's the offspring that have been fathered by other males. It sounds awful, but there's evolutionary reason for baboons doing this. Female baboons don't ovulate when they are lactating or nursing their young. But when there is no baby baboon to nurse, the lactating turns off and the ovulation can be turned back on. This way, the male has ensured that the female is ready to mate again, and you can be sure he's going to do everything to make sure it's with him. In this way, he has removed a competitor's genes from the table and put his own into the running to be passed on to the next generation.

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