Tracking collars reveal raiding strategies used by hungry baboons

"We suspected the baboons were doing something clever to allow them to minimize the risks associated with urban foraging," said researcher Andrew King.
By Brooks Hays  |  Nov. 8, 2017 at 9:43 AM
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Nov. 8 (UPI) -- Baboons in South Africa mostly use a sit and wait tactic before raiding homes in search of food, according to new research.

Scientists used tracking collars to reveal the raiding strategies of local baboons, publishing the results of their research this week in the journal Scientific Reports.

"Raiding baboons are a real challenge in the Cape Peninsula, South Africa," Justin O'Riain, director of the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa at the University of Cape Town, said in a news release. "The baboons enter properties to raid in gardens and bins, but also enter homes and sometimes take food directly from people."

After earlier research showed some male baboons were thwarting management companies and still managing to sneak into properties, O'Riain and his colleagues decided to design tracking collars to fit baboons.

"People assume the baboons don't have enough food in their natural habitats and therefore have no choice but to forage in town," said lead study author Gaëlle Fehlmann. "In fact, our research shows there is plenty of food in the natural environment where there is very little risk of the baboons being disturbed by anyone."

Still, baboons are drawn to the rich bounties of food to be found in the city and suburbs. The density of calories is apparently worth the risk.

Data from the tracking collars showed most baboons use a sit and wait tactic, roaming the edges of the city and executing short raids when they see an opportunity. Researchers hope their findings will help baboon management operations refine their strategies for deterring raids.

"We suspected the baboons were doing something clever to allow them to minimize the risks associated with urban foraging, and the data collected from the collars confirmed this," said Andrew King, researcher at Swansea University.

Researchers found raiding baboons spend much less time foraging -- just 10 percent -- than their non-raiding peers elsewhere, who spend nearly half of their waking life looking for food.

"Our results present unequivocal evidence of extreme behavioral flexibility in these baboons," Fehlmann said. "Behavioral flexibility has long been considered a central component of a species ability to cope with human-induced environmental changes, but has been difficult or impossible to quantify in wild animal populations. The new tracking technologies employed by the researchers are changing this."

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