Hamadryas Baboon

ORDER: Primates

FAMILY: Cercopithecidae

GENUS: Papio

SPECIES: hamadryas

Length (without tail) 24 to 30 inches. Males weigh up to 40 lbs and are twice the weight of females. Males have massive features and a well-developed silver shaggy cape or mane. They have enormous canines, usually used in threat displays. Females and young are brown without mane. Infants are black. Tail arched gently backwards. Face is reddish-pink with a very long muzzle in the same line as the brain case. Ischial callosities are highly developed and bright red. Females exhibit pronounced monthly genital swelling.

Inhabits semi-arid plains and rocky hill country in Ethiopia and Somalia in Africa, and Saudi Arabia and Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula. They are found from sea level to 2600 meters. They spend the night on rocky cliffs, sometimes foraging miles during the day but returning to the cliffs to sleep.

Omnivorous. Food consists of practically anything edible, but is chiefly vegetarian supplemented with protein-rich insects, hares and other small animals. In their dry, sandy environment they learn where to find small pools and where to dig for water. In parts of Arabia, they are becoming increasingly dependent on raiding crops and garbage dumps.

Hamadryas baboons are socially and structurally distinct from other species of baboon. Males are related to each other and females move between groups. They sleep on rocky cliffs in aggregations that may number as many as 750. They travel and forage in bands of 50 to 100 individuals. In turn these bands are composed of the basic group of a single adult male with one to four females together with their offspring. The adult male keeps his harem together by strong disciplinary measures which include biting his females on the nape of the neck. Males kidnap young females who then bond to them. A female threatened by her male will run towards not away from him. When a pair forms, rival males respect a possessor's right to his female. This species breeds throughout the year, but the peak seasons are May-June and November-December. The gestation period is 170-173 days; one young is usual, rarely two. Females reach sexual maturity in five years, males in seven. Hamadryas baboons are preyed upon by leopards, jackals, hyenas, cheetahs and lions, and infants are sometimes taken by eagles. Life span 30 to 40 years.

Hamadryas flexible social structure is adapted to two special local conditions:the lack of safe sleeping places and the difficulty of finding food in the tree-less semi-desert in which they live.

The Hamadryas was the sacred baboon of the ancient Egyptians, often pictured on temples and monoliths as the attendant or representative of Thoth, the god of letters and scribe of the gods. Baboons were mummified, entombed and associated with sun-worship. This is the only non-human primate found in Arabia. Also known as the sacred or mantled or Arabian baboon. These animals are very social and are stressed by isolation. A direct stare is a threat. To threaten in return, they will raise their eyebrows, showing their white eyelid and partially open their mouth, displaying formidable canines. Intensifying the threat, they may yawn, raise their hair, slap hands and feet on the ground, grind their teeth and scream. Fear is shown by a grin with no eyelid threat. They have a number of calls; alarm is given by a dog-like bark.

The baboons can be found between the Wayne and Gladys Valley Children's Zoo and the African Veldt.

Common within their limited distribution. Arabian populations becoming dependent on humans may be at risk. The Hamadryads has been exterminated in Egypt and reduced in numbers in other areas. Much of its former range has been brought under cultivation, leading to conflicts between people and the remaining baboon population. The Hamadryas baboon is listed as threatened by CITES (Appendix II.) Listed as a species of Least Concern by IUCN.


  1. IUCN/SSC. 1989. Primate Conservation Number 10
  2. Kummer, Hans. 1968. Social Organization of Hamadryas Baboons. Chicago University Press.
  3. Kummer, Hans. 1995. In Quest of the Sacred Baboon: A Scientist
  4. MacDonald, David. 1987. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Equinox, Oxford.
  5. Nowak, Ronald. 1991. Walker Mammals of the World, 5th Ed, Vol I, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.