In January of this year, Oakland Zoo received four new Hamadryas Baboons. We received a male named Martijn with his three females, Maya, Maud, and Krista. They range in age from seven years to sixteen years. They came to us from the Netherlands. During their relocation journey, they had to spend forty-five days in CDC quarantine, Center for Disease Control, at the Bronx Zoo in New York. Once at the zoo, Martijn and his females spent another thirty days of quarantine at Oakland Zoo’s New Veterinary Hospital. After a clean bill of health from the veterinarians, the troop were allowed to go to their new home at Baboon Cliffs.
Before letting the new baboons go out on exhibit, they had to get familiar with the night-house and Rafi’s group (older baboon troop residing at zoo). This troop consists of Rafi, the harem male, with his three females; Jennifer, Violet, and Dink. Introducing a new troop to the current baboon residents was going to be a big change. Martijn’s group adjusted well to their new night-house. They were not able to share space with Rafi’s group, but could see them. This is called Howdying; it lets the animals get use to each other without the risk of getting hurt. The process also allowed both males to see that the other male has females. Traditionally, Hamadryas Baboons will respect the other male’s females and not try to take them once they are introduced.
After about two weeks, it was time for the baboons to be introduced. First, they had fence to fence access to each other. This means they could only touch each other through the caging. This went well with only minor aggression between the two groups. The males acted in the manner that was expected. They show possession of their females by herding them about the exhibit. The harem males will sometimes show affiliation towards each other by lip-smacking to one another. They will also approach each other, show their hind quarters to each other, then quickly walk away. You may see this behavior out on exhibit, which happens naturally in the wild. Chasing may also occur between the two males over choice spaces in the exhibit, like a sunny log or a shaddy platform. The males do not groom each other, like you will see the females do. The females are more relaxed and will groom a female from the other harem. There is no dominant male. The males are only dominant over their females in their harem.
While Martijn and his females were at the CDC, we received exciting news that one of the females was pregnant. Oakland Zoo had not had a baby baboon in many years. The gestation of baboons is 170 days or five months. Maya had her baby on April 9. She gave birth overnight without complications and by morning had a clean little black bundle clinging to her belly. Baboons give birth at night, so they have time to rest before they have to start foraging or interacting with the other troops. The infant will cling to the mother’s chest and nurse in that position for about five weeks. At around five or six weeks, the infant will start trying to ride on the mother’s back. At two to three weeks, the infant begins to walk. Maya’s infant, Mocha, took her first step at around two weeks. Now at six weeks, Mocha is able to clumsily run about and climb on logs. Mocha stays close to her mother, and Maya is always ready to grab her if she feels Mocha is in danger. It will be another two months before Mocha starts to venture farther from the safety of her mother.
Baboon teeth start to come in at five days old and at three weeks Mocha had eight incisors. It was at that time that Mocha started teething on anything that she could put in her mouth, like twigs, leaves, and food her mother was eating. At one month, the babies start to eat solid food. Mocha has not mastered the art of bringing food to her mouth, so she bends over and takes little bites out of vegetables that are on the ground.
The mother baboon takes care of the infant with no help from the father. Other females in the harem will offer the baby a ride on their backs and will sometimes try to hold the infant, but if the infant vocalizes, the mother is there to quickly take the infant back. Krista, one of Martijn’s other females, has shown interest in little Mocha and often offers her back for a ride or tries to hold Mocha. At her age, Mocha is full of energy and unless she is sleeping or nursing, she wants to be free to explore her exhibit.
Mocha has many more milestones ahead of her. She will stay with her mother for about ten months. At that time, her baby black hair will have turned brown, no longer signaling she is an infant. At this time, her mother will also start to push her away. She will still be able to stay with the troop, but she will no longer get to nurse or have free rides on her mother’s back. It will be time for Mocha to find her place within the troop.
Please note, you can observe some of the behaviors mentioned in this blog by visiting Oakland Zoo’s Baboon Cliffs.