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The baboon, of all the primates in East Africa, most frequently interacts with people. Apart from humans, baboons are the most adaptable of the ground dwelling primates and live in a wide variety of habitats. Intelligent and crafty, they can be agricultural pests, so they are treated as vermin rather than wildlife.
The two most common baboons occur in East Africa, the olive baboon and the yellow baboon. The larger and darker olive baboon is found in Uganda, west and central Kenya and northern Tanzania. Smaller, more slender and lighter in color, the yellow baboon inhabits southern and coastal Kenya and Tanzania. Both types are "dogfaced," but the yellow's nose turns up more than the olive's.
Baboons are found in surprisingly varied habitats and are extremely adaptable. The major requirements for any habitat seems to be water sources and safe sleeping places in either tall trees or on cliff faces. When water is readily available, baboons drink every day or two, but they can survive for long periods by licking the night dew from their fur.
Baboons usually leave their sleeping places around 7 or 8 a.m. After coming down from the cliffs or trees, adults sit in small groups grooming each other while the juveniles play. They then form a cohesive unit that moves off in a column of two or three, walking until they begin feeding. Fanning out, they feed as they move along, often traveling five or six miles a day. They forage for about three hours in the morning, rest during the heat of the day and then forage again in the afternoon before returning to their sleeping places by about 6 p.m. Before retiring, they spend more time in mutual grooming, a key way of forming bonds among individuals as well as keeping the baboons clean and free of external parasites.
Baboons sleep, travel, feed and socialize together in groups of about 50 individuals, consisting of seven to eight males and approximately twice as many females plus their young. These family units of females, juveniles and infants form the stable core of a troop, with a ranking system that elevates certain females as leaders. A troop's home range is well-defined but does not appear to have territorial borders. It often overlaps with the range of other baboons, but the troops seem to avoid meeting one another.
When they begin to mature, males leave their natal troops and move in and out of other troops. Frequent fights break out to determine dominance over access to females or meat. The ranking of these males constantly changes during this period.
Males are accepted into new troops slowly, usually by developing "friendships" with different females around the edge of a troop. They often help to defend a female and her offspring.
Baboons are opportunistic omnivores and selective feeders that carefully choose their food. Grass makes up a large part of their diet, along with berries, seeds, pods, blossoms, leaves, roots, bark and sap from a variety of plants. Baboons also eat insects and small quantities of meat, such as fish, shellfish, hares, birds, vervet monkeys and young, small antelopes.
For the first month, an infant baboon stays in very close contact with its mother. The mother carries the infant next to her stomach as she travels, holding it with one hand. By the time the young baboon is 5 to 6 weeks old it can ride on her back, hanging on by all four limbs; in a few months it rides jockey style, sitting upright. Between 4 and 6 months the young baboon begins to spend most of its time with other juveniles.
The baboon's major predators are humans. Knowing that humans can easily kill or injure them when they are in trees, baboons usually escape through undergrowth. Males may confront other predators like leopards or cheetahs by forming a line and strutting in a threatening manner while baring their large canines and screaming. Baboons are fierce fighters, but a demonstration such as this can put the predator on the run.
Nearly one-half the size of adult males, females lack the male's ruff (long hairs around the neck), but otherwise they are similar in appearance. Baboons use over 30 vocalizations ranging from grunts to barks to screams. Nonvocal gestures include yawns, lip smacking and shoulder shrugging.
Like chimpanzees, bonobos are closely related to humans, sharing 98.4% of their genetic makeup. Their similarity to humans has long been recognized by the indigenous people who have resided with bonobos for thousands of years. Their legends tell of a bonobo saving a man's life, how the bonobos showed man what food was available in the forest and how bonobos have tried to become human.
The species is best characterized as female-centered and as one that manages and diffuses tension through sex, making agression less common than with chimpanzees. Whereas in most other species sexual behavior is a fairly distinct category, in the bonobo it is part and parcel of social relations - and not just between males and females. Bonobos engage in sex in virtually every partner combination, although such contact among close family members may be suppressed. And sexual interactions occur more often among bonobos than among other primates. Despite the frequency of sex, the bonobo's rate of reproduction in the wild is about the same as that of the chimpanzee. A female gives birth to a single infant at intervals of between five and six years.
Compared to the chimpanzee, and like humans, bonobos have relatively longer legs, shorter arms, and a narrower trunk. The skull sits upright on the spine, and they have smaller canine teeth. There is sexual dimorphism in the canines where the males' are longer than the canines of the female. They are distinguished from chimpanzees by their black face and red lips from birth, two or three webbed toes, a tail tuft that persists into adulthood and forwardly rotated female genitals. The pelage color is black and may turn more of a grayish color with age. The average body mass for an adult male bonobo is around 85 pounds, and for the female it is around 65 pounds. Compared to chimpanzees, they have slightly smaller head and ears and a smaller brow ridge. The hair on their head is parted in the middle and long hairs sweep out from the sides of their faces, mostly covering their ears.
The bonobo is only found in the country of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between the Congo River, the Lomami River, the Kasai/Sankuru Rivers, and the Lake Tumba/Lac Ndombe region. Bonobo range is presently calculated at no more than 350,000 square kilometers. They spend much of their time in the tall, dense tropical forest canopy, gracefully maneuvering though the trees searching for food. This area is fragmented, and it seems as if bonobo can survive in close proximity to human communities that are willing to co-habitate with this peaceful ape. Recent surveys, however, show that many areas that were known to have lots of bonobo 20 years ago now have none. This region of DRC has been politically unstable for the past 10 years, and this has attributed to bonobo decline.
When the bonobo moves on the ground it moves quadrupedally in a special position called knuckle-walking. In a tree this species can also move in a quadrupedal manner. However, it also uses suspensory behavior in the trees to move around within a tree laden with fruit. On the ground the bonobo can also walk bipedally, and it certainly the most human like of apes in that and several other respects.
The bonobo lives in a fission-fusion society dividing and then coming back together on a regular basis. Subgroups are generally multi-male, bisexual groups with strong maternal focused subunits. Bonobo sexual behavior is flexible and they have been observed to resolve conflict through sexual contact. Communities have ranges that overlap with other groups. Males of this species will protect members of the group as well as hunt. Males typically remain in their natal group while females are the ones who will disperse. Most of the grooming bouts and instances of food sharing occur between males and females, which is different from common chimpanzees where it occurs between male. Also the female-female relationship is much stronger in this species than it is for common chimpanzees.
Although they seem very outgoing, bonobos control their emotions when expressing themselves in times of happiness, sorrow, excitement or anger. They are very animated and perform similar gestures as humans when communicating without sound. For example, they will beg by streching out an open hand or foot and will make a whimpering sound if they fail at something.
Groups of bonobos range from about 50 to 100 individuals, although they do break up during the day to form foraging parties. Each night this species makes a sleeping nest made from branches and leaves, usually nesting with the subgroup they travel with.
The bonobo is primarily a frugivorous species, but it will also consume shoots, leaves, flowers, seeds, bark, pith, herbs, invertebrates, and small vertebrates. This species will use over 113 types of plants in a year. Of the vertebrates eaten are flying squirrels and the young of forest duikers, but meat eating appears to be opportunistic rather than stemming from organized hunts. The bonobo will also consume termite clay for essential minerals.
Females become sexually mature after about 12 years, and may give birth soon thereafter. The young are born with a black face and hands and their ears are concealed behind whiskers. Females have babies in five and six year intervals so population growth can never be rapid. The gestation period is thought to be between 220 and 230 days. Females nurse and carry their young for five years and by the age of seven, the offspring reach adolescence. Females have between five and six offspring in a lifetime. The longevity of bonobos is unknown but researchers have predicted longer than 40 in the wild and age 60 in captivity.
Only a small portion of the bonobo's habitat is protected. Due to war in the DRC, however, even withing protected areas, they are threatened by illegal activities such as hunting, and deforestation / habitat loss. Local people depend on wildlife to provide protein in their diet and logging companies supply their employees with bushmeat by employing commercial hunters. Habitat is lost to both traditional slash-and-burn agriculture as well as commercial logging operations. Although the areas where bonobos are traditionally found generally have a very low human population, people are attracted to the bonobos’ forested homes for employment as well as for asylum during the recent conflicts that have ravished the DRC. Some bonobos may also be killed annually for medicinal and magical purposes. Specific body parts of bonobos are believed to increase sexual drive and strength, in the same way as chimpanzees and gorillas are believed to have magical powers.
The latest research confirms substantial numbers of bonobos only in a few areas. Based on field observations, scientists believe that only 5,000 bonobos occur. These estimates are continually being revised downwards, as civil unrest and growing poverty levels persist in the DRC. Bonobos are highly vulnerable to increasing hunting and habitat loss because they have a low birth rate and a fragmented population.
Noisy and curious, intelligent and social, the chimpanzee is the mammal most like a human. Chimpanzees fascinate humans and are favorites both in zoos and the wild.
Three subspecies of common chimpanzees are distributed across the forest zone of Africa from Guinea to western Tanzania and Uganda. Another species of chimpanzees, the bonobo, is found exclusively in central Democratic Republic of Congo. In East Africa the chimpanzee is found in the wild in Tanzania and Uganda, but only in captivity in Kenya. Gombe National Park in Tanzania is the first park in Africa specifically created for chimpanzees.
The chimpanzee has a thickset body with long arms, short legs and no tail. Much of the body is covered with long black hair, but the face, ears, fingers and toes are bare. They have hands that can grip firmly, allowing them to pick up objects. The discovery that they used "tools" for certain purposes surprised the world.
Chimps are mainly found in rain forests and wet savannas. While they spend equal time on land and in trees, they do most of their feeding and sleeping in trees.
Chimps live in groups called troops, of some 30 to 80 individuals. These large groups are made up of smaller, very flexible groups of just a few animals, perhaps all females, all males or a mixed group.
Chimps sometimes chew leaves to make them absorbent and then use them as a sponge, dipping them in water and sucking out the moisture. They also use grass stems or twigs as tools, poking them into termite or ant nests and eating the insects that cling to them. They are able to wedge nuts between the roots of a tree and break the shells open with a stone.
Chimps are both arboreal and terrestrial, spending much of their daytime hours on the ground. They are quadrupedal, walking quickly on all fours with the fingers half-flexed to support the weight of the forequarters on the knuckles. They occasionally walk erect for short distances.
Chimps are agile climbers, building nests high up in trees to rest in during midday and sleep in at night. They construct new nests in minutes by bending branches, intertwining them to form a platform and lining the edges with twigs. In some areas chimps make nests on the ground.
Chimps are diurnal, but often active on moonlit nights, and begin their activities at dawn. After descending from their night nests they hungrily feed on fruits, their principal diet, and on leaves, buds and blossoms. After a while their feeding becomes more selective, and they will choose only the ripest fruit. They usually pick fruit with their hands, but they eat berries and seeds directly off the stem with their lips. Their diet consists of up to 80 different plant foods.
The female chimp has an estrus cycle of about 34 to 35 days. While in heat, the bare skin on her bottom becomes pink and swollen, and she may mate with several males. She normally gives birth to just one baby, which clings tightly to her breast and, like a human baby, develops rather slowly. An infant can sit up at 5 months and stand with support at 6 months. It is still suckled and sleeps with its mother until about 3 years of age, finally becoming independent and separating from her at about 4 years. Sexual maturity is reached between 8 and 10 years.
Chimps are among the noisiest of all wild animals and use a complicated system of sounds to communicate with each other. A loud "wraaa" call, which can be heard more than a mile away, warns of something unusual or disturbing. They hoot "hoo-hoo-hoo," scream, grunt and drum on hollow trees with the flat of their hands, sometimes for hours.
Chimps touch each other a great deal and may kiss when they meet. They also hold hands and groom each other. An adult chimp often has a special "friend" or companion with which it spends a lot of time. Female chimps give their young a great deal of attention and help each other with babysitting chores. Older chimps in the group are usually quite patient with energetic youngsters.
The number of chimps in the wild is steadily decreasing. The wilderness areas necessary to their survival are disappearing at an alarming rate as more forests are cut down for farming and other activities. As the human's closest relative the chimp is vulnerable to many of the same diseases, and their capture for medical research contributes to their decline, especially in West Africa. as more forests are cut down for farm activities. In addition, recent outbreaks of the incurable disease Ebola hemorrhagic fever, threaten to decimate important chimpanzee populations in the Republic of Congo and Gabon.
Chimpanzees use large sticks and branches as clubs or throw them at enemies like leopards and humans. Chimps supplement their diets with meat, such as young antelopes or goats. Their most frequent victims, however, are other primates such as young baboons, colobus monkeys and blue monkeys.
Most gorillas live in inaccessible regions in various dense forests in tropical Africa, and one subspecies, the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), was not even known to science until 1902.
A chain of eight volcanoes known as the Virungas runs through a western section of the Rift Valley, forming part of the border between Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and Rwanda. These spectacular mountains and the nearby Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda are the last refuges of the most endangered of the gorilla subspecies, the mountain gorilla. Only about 700 of these wondrous creatures remain.
The mountain gorilla has a robust build with long, muscular arms and short legs, a massive chest, and broad hands and feet with thick digits. It is the hairiest race of gorillas; its long, thick black hair insulates it from the cold of living at high elevations. Gorillas have large heads - especially males, who’s sculls have a prominent crest. Facial features like wrinkles around the nose - called nose prints - are unique for each individual and are often used by human researchers for identification.
Mountain gorillas are not the ferocious beasts depicted in imaginative movies. Although strong and powerful, gorillas are generally gentle and shy. Gorillas have strong attachments to members of their own group. They live in groups of 2-30 individuals, on average 11. Groups are led by a dominant male, the silverback, named for the silvery gray hairs that grow when the male matures. The silverback serves as the chief protector and defender of the group. All members of the group defer to the silverback. He leads, deciding when and where to forage, rest and sleep. He arbitrates disputes among his family members and protects them from rival silverbacks or human predators.
Gorillas continually wander through their home ranges of 1.5 to 3 square miles, feeding and resting throughout the day. Mountain gorillas roughly spend 30% of their day feeding, 30% traveling or moving, and 40% resting. At dusk, they settle down for the night and sleep in nests. These nests are made of vegetation that the gorillas shove under and around them, forming rimmed cushioned platforms.
Gorillas, especially males, have a wide range of vocal and physical communications. Silverbacks can roar, scream and bark to deter predators or competitors. They stand on their legs and beat their massive chests, which contain airsacks, to produce an intimidating thudding sound. They may even charge at people or gorillas they see as threatening, striking the ground with their fists in a display of aggression.
It is perhaps surprising that mammals as large and strong as mountain gorillas are primarily herbivores, which eat a variety of plants and leaves. They eat a staggering 142 different species of plants, including bamboo, wild celery, thistles, stinging nettles, bedstraw and certain fruit. They rarely need to drink since their diet is so rich in succulent herbs, from which they get enough water. They will occasionally eat their feces, possibly to prevent the loss of minerals through digestion, although the exact reason has not yet been determined.
Mountain gorillas have a slow rate of reproduction. This slow reproduction makes this species even more threatened. In a 40-50 year lifetime, a female might have only 2-6 living offspring. Females give birth for the first time at about age 10 and will have offspring every four years or more. A male reaches sexual maturity between 10 and 12 years. Able to conceive for only about three days each month, the female produces a single young and in rare cases twins.
Newborn gorillas are weak and tiny, weighing about 4 pounds. Their movements are as awkward as those of human infants, but their development is roughly twice as fast. At 3 or 4 months, the gorilla infant can sit upright and can stand with support soon after. It suckles regularly for about a year and is gradually weaned at about 3.5 years, when it becomes more independent.
The mountain gorilla's true threat is man. The primary threat to mountain gorillas comes from forest clearance and degradation, as the region's growing human population struggles to eke out a living. Conversion of land for agriculture and competition for limited natural resources such as firewood lead to varying degrees of deforestation of gorilla’s natural habitat. The only way to maintain gorilla habitat is to develop alternative economic activities that allow people to meet their daily needs, so that they see gorillas not as competitors, but as a means of improving their own situation.
Poachers have also killed entire family groups in their attempts to capture infant gorillas for zoos, while others are killed to sell their heads and hands as trophies.
Gorillas are closely related to humans, with similar anatomical and physiological features. This makes them vulnerable to many of the same diseases. Because the gorillas have not developed the necessary immunities, first time exposure to an illness or virus that is relatively innocuous to humans may devastate an entire population.
Humans and gorillas are 98% genetically identical. Male silverback gorillas can weigh 50-100 pounds more - and are about 10 times stronger - than the biggest American football players. When the group is attacked by humans, leopards, or other gorillas, the silverback will protect them even at the cost of his own life.