Infant baboons look very different from adult baboons and in some ways resemble human infants. For example, instead of being covered with fur, their faces and ears are bright pink. Kinda baboons are especially conspicuous as they are often born with a bright white coat. After spending a little time with a baboon group it becomes evident that small infants are very popular individuals, especially during times of rest and socializing. Mothers with infants are regularly approached by baboons of all age and sex classes wanting to touch, hold, carry or just be near to the infant. Often it is young adult or sub-adult females who show strong interest in small infants, wanting to hold and groom them. It has been suggested that this is one way these females learn to be successful mothers in the future.
There are definitely costs and benefits to being a mother with a mall infant*. If a female with an infant is high ranking she may gain benefits from having a small infant.
She may have better access to resources including food and water as well as receive positive attention including grooming from other group members. Being a baboon mother however can be very stressful for both herself and her infant. Not only must she eat extra food to sustain herself but during the first several months of her infant’s life her ability to keep up with the group may be compromised. Lower ranking females may receive a significant amount of harassment making it particularly important for her to have close bonds with other adult females and/or males. It appears that Kinda males are particularly interested in females with infants and groom them often. Hopefully with further investigation over the next 14 months we will begin to better understand why.
*For informative data and explanations on the costs and benefits of being a baboon mother see “Baboon Mothers and Infants”, Jeanne Altman.
Kasanka Baboon Project
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