Baboons are large monkeys that live in a wide variety of habitats across sub-Saharan Africa, from the Horn of Africa and the southwestern Arabian Peninsula to Senegal in West Africa southwards to Cape Agulhas and the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.  Baboons live in an exceptionally wide array of habitats, from the deserts of Saudi Arabia and Namibia to the tropical dry forests and woodlands of Central Africa.  Baboons are largely terrestrial, i.e., they spend most of their daylight hours on the ground, but they forage both in the trees and on the ground and they sleep in trees or on cliffs where they are safe from predators.  Baboons live in social groups or troops consisting of anywhere from 10 to over 100 individuals; these troops include adult males, adult females, and juveniles of all ages.  Baboons are also sexually dimorphic, i.e., females are usually about 50–60% of the size of males.  Male baboons usually disperse, i.e., emigrate out of their natal troops and into new troops when they reach reproductive age.  Baboons are among the most flexible and adaptable animals on earth: they will eat almost anything and can adapt easily to environmental changes around them.

Several long-term field research projects focusing on the behavioral ecology of baboons have contributed greatly to our understanding of their social behavior, ecology, and evolution. The broad geographic distribution, wide array of habitats, and behavioral diversity of baboons make them particularly useful for comparative studies of the relationship between animal ecology and behavior.  Baboons have also been used as models for ecological and social evolution of the human lineage.  Baboons are thought to represent good analogs for early hominins (the taxonomic subfamily that includes humans and their ancesters after the split with the chimpanzee lineage) because, like hominins, baboons are large-bodied, terrestrial, behaviorally flexible, omnivorous primates that live primarily in African woodland and savanna habitats (Washburn and DeVore 1961; DeVore and Washburn 1963; Jolly 1970, 2001; Rose 1976; Strum and Mitchell 1987; Plummer 2004; Elton 2006; Codron et al 2008; Swedell and Plummer 2012).


Content on these pages contributed by:

Dr Larissa Swedell

Thanks to the following reviewers:
Dr Susan Alberts
Dr Cliff Jolly


photograph by N. Rowe

For a more scholarly version of the information on these pages, see:
Swedell, L (2011) African Papionins: Diversity of Social Organization and Ecological Flexibility. IN Primates in Perspective, Second Edition (Campbell CJ, Fuentes A, MacKinnon KC, Bearder SK, Stumpf, RM, eds). New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 241-277.

When using information on these pages, please cite the URL of the specific page from which you acquired the information. For scholarly citations of this material, please cite the above chapter by L. Swedell, available as a pdf by emailing the author.  Please credit either this website or the above chapter for any and all use of this material.