Babooning

tyler Carver joined the Primate and Predator Project in June as a volunteer Research Assistant. He has been pivotal in developing a new stage in our research which focuses on chacma baboons. Tyler will be helping the project until December. Here’s his story so far:

The Primate and Predator Project recently launched a long-term study on another Cercopithecine primate species at Lajuma: the chacma baboons. This troop of savanna baboons includes over 80 individuals and has a home range that encompasses Lajuma and parts of neighbouring properties as well. This troop has been studied for the past two and a half years by Peter Tomlin, a PhD student co-supervised by the Primate and Predator Project’s Principal Investigator, Dr Russell Hill. For the whole month of June, Pete and I spent every day going over the individuals in the troop, what their defining characteristics were, how to tell each individual apart, and what age-sex class each individual belonged to. It took about a month to view them all as individuals and to recognize each one from any given distance. At the beginning of July Pete had to return to the UK to write up his doctoral thesis and a new stage of baboon research began at Lajuma.

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Early in July, we worked with Adrian, the vet, to dart and collar adult females in the troop. This data will provide key information about baboon and leopard interactions and movements associated with predation mitigation strategies. We would also like to try different methods to keep baboons away from a neighbouring crop farm with the intention of preventing human-baboon conflict. These collars will provide vital data on movement strategies near the farm when these methods are in place.

The owner of Lajuma, Professor Ian Gaigher, asked Adrian to help him with an additional task; to remove a snare from an adult male, Achilles. The snare had been on his right arm for about two months already. The snare affected him in every aspect of his life. He could not put any weight on the hand and therefore was forced to forage with one hand, walk with the arm held in the air, and was unable to climb trees. He also moved from the top of the hierarchy to the bottom because he was unable to defend himself against other males.

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For 8 days in July, we followed the baboons everyday and attempted to dart target animals for collaring wherever it was safe. We did not manage to collar any adult females this time, but Adrian did manage to achieve Ian’s goal and to save Achilles. The vet darted him, took the snare off, and released him within a few hours. Achilles was released back into the troop a whole new baboon. He is now able to use his arm regularly, put his weight on it, and climb trees! Wahoo!

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After darting finished, we started collecting data and doing full day follows on the baboons. The day starts at about 6:00 AM, when the baboons first wake up. We have to be at their sleeping site when they awake in order to determine which direction they are headed. A GPS collar on one of the adult females, Lobelia, helps tremendously with this. We have a VHF antenna that picks up the signal from the collar and allows us to interpret which direction the troop is in. When following, we do focal and scan sampling on the baboons, and are specifically studying the social dynamics of the male hierarchy. For focal sampling, I follow one individual for 10 minutes and record every time their behaviour changes. For scan sampling, the identity or age sex class of each individual in sight and what they are doing is recorded. The day ends at about 5:00 PM, when the baboons head to their sleeping site for the night.

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Following baboons in an afromontane habitat has proven extremely difficult. Baboons can move through thick bush and climb cliffs much faster than we can! They also travel about 10 km per day and have over 10 different sleeping sites, all located on the edges of cliffs. Therefore, all of my clothes are torn, my arms have permanent scratches on them, and I’ve already been forced to buy a new pair of hiking boots. But, it is all worth it. Following the baboons, though extremely challenging, has been an amazing experience thus far. Viewing them as individuals allows me to understand and interpret their social interactions and dynamics, which is an exceptionally interesting and unique experience. It is the best job I have ever had.

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– by Tyler Carver, volunteer Research Assistant on the Primate and Predator Project

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