Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Zoo has a small troop of Hamadryas Baboons in the Animal Lifestyles exhibit, which lets you watch the baboons up-close and personal, in air-conditioned comfort and from behind thick plexiglass walls. One young schoolboy, pressing his face against the window, was startled when an adult male baboon suddenly lunged at him, and he fell backwards onto the floor – safe and wholly amused.
There are two adult males in the group (not really large enough to be called a troop), Simon and Bole. Simon is most easily distinguished by the large pink spot on his head, not some disease, but just too much grooming. Baboons love to groom and be groomed; it’s constant social bonding.
Note the female’s sidelong glance; she’s keeping a close on someone.
There are no juveniles or infants (July 9, 2013), but rumor has it that one of the females is expecting. The young baboons born in 2010 were sent to a zoo in Australia for breeding. Apparently, zoos must move their breeding animals around to prevent in-breeding.
Hamadryas Baboons (Papio hamadryas) have been known since antiquity and were included in Linnaeus’ 1758 Systema Naturae. They are native to the dry highlands of Ethiopia and Yemen, where they live in troops of 100, 200, or more. They have a complex social structure, with the harem (or “one-male-unit”) as the basic element: an adult males, his 1 to 5 consorts, and their dependent young. Males keep their females close by, and will punish them if they get too far away. One researcher on TV noted that this leads to a wholly miserable existence for the females. “If you believe in reincarnation,” he said, “you don’t want to come back as a female hamadryas.” Males are constantly trying to steal females from other males, and when two troops collide, it can be a mad free-for-all as both try to engage in wife-piracy.
The British experts in TV pronounce the word as “bi-BOON,” not “BA-boon,” as we do. I don’t know which is correct.
Prospect Park is the only zoo in the northeastern United States that has Hamadryas Baboons. You can get very good photos of them there, as the exhibit is fairly open and the baboons are not shy; just avoid the heavily scratched parts of the window.