It all began on a family trip to the zoo when I was a child. Before the camel sneezed all over my sister and we had to go home, we visited the mandrill cage. These magnificent animals (closely related to baboons) strutted around, unabashedly showing off their brilliantly coloured posteriors. I remember being surprised by the vivid colours and the way my father (the scientist) explained the reproductive agenda behind the brilliant pinks and blues of the dominant males. My young eyeballs popped in disbelief, who would have thought?
After that particular zoo visit, whenever anyone boasted shamelessly, or was a little too theatrical in their quest for attention, out came the family joke, “Stop showing off your baboon’s bottom!”
Of course this showing off for status and reproduction is exhibited throughout the animal kingdom, and we humans are no exception. But the ‘life admin’ of a baboon, whilst similar, is a lot less complicated than ours: food, mating, sleep, safe shelter, avoiding danger and predators, caring for young, the odd twerk etc.
We humans have a far more complex social life to contend with. Baboon approval would be pretty straightforward (be supportive, be a fantastic groomer), they don’t compare each other as obsessively as we do, they don’t Photoshop already cute baboon derrières for advertising revenue, or anxiously read up on how to get that deeper hue of blue on their buns this summer. I suspect baboon arguments are more in-your-face, they can’t cyber-bully with anonymity and little threat of retribution. Baboons don’t care who has the most Facebook friends, they can’t post a constant stream of attention-seeking selfies to impress and be socially assessed, or ‘liked’, worldwide. Perhaps that family joke is better aimed at humans, and how we’re using our social position on the evolutionary tree?
Come to think of it, baboons probably don’t have insidious social epidemics like anorexia/hysteria or many DSM mental illness categories to choose from either. Middle-aged baboons don’t obsess about the discovery of nasal hair, or sagging breasts. Female baboons in general don’t appear concerned about the size of their booty.
We share some similarities with baboons- we both love to be social and benefit from it. Baboons have a short attention span, that also applies to us on social media, and we also have little or no privacy on our cyber-savannah.
After researching baboon harems (hmm, perhaps the good outweighs the bad?), I discovered that baboon troops range in size from 30 to 200. Adult females spend a lot of time with other female friends and never leave the troop they’re born into. During their rest periods, baboons spend considerable time grooming one another, which helps to reinforce social bonds and support. Females have male baboons that assist them in caring for their infants and protecting them from danger. These males may not be the fathers, but they may later mate with the female.
I began this post as a joke, but now think I’ve talked myself into the good life of a baboon. Admit it, the above picture looks like they’re having a great gossip. 🙂 Baboons are able to acquire orthographic processing skills, which form part of the ability to read (yay, books!) And I wouldn’t miss Facebook if the alternative was a rich social life and a daily massage.
It’s all about balance, isn’t it?
Baboons- Social Behavior: <a href=”http://science.jrank.org/pages/701/Baboons-Social-behavior.html”>Baboons – Social Behavior</a>