Baboons in fynbos

Baboons play an integral role in the ecology of Fynbos vegetation and their diet is so varied within this plant system that it may be easier to note what they don’t eat rather than the extensive list of what they do!  I’ve been fortunate to sight a couple of the troops recently in the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve while out cycling and have been able to observe their foraging.  After good rainfall this winter the vegetation is green and succulent and the animals are in good condition.  The temperature has also been colder than usual so it’s interesting to note their thick ‘winter coats’.

A confident posture and bearing marks this alpha male. He is in peak condition and commands respect from the ranks.
Layers of thick hair serve as protection from winter’s chilly temperature.
Foraging on the fruit of wild olive trees, Olea europaea subsp. africana.  
They tuck in with gusto feasting on the ripe black olives. I too sampled a couple curious to test the flavour. Pleasant enough, the initial bite was grape-like, and then with a bitter after taste.
It was most surprising to see this plant on the menu: Cullumia squarrosa, or snake thistle. It’s a prickly little number! I had in the past seen them eating the flowers, but not the the needle like leaves. Reading a description of the plant, the inner involucral bracts are without prickles and I noted that they were only plucking off the top most growth.
They certainly get a good portion of fiber in their diet.  This plant is endemic to the Cape Peninsula – a coastal bush found only in the extreme south western Cape.

The pollinator

Feasting on pincushion blooms (Leucospermum conocarpodendron), a young juvenile baboon, while handling the flowers gets covered in pollen.  As he scrambles across the bush he’ll provide a useful service of cross pollination by brushing against the pollen and spreading it to different flowers.   There he is fulfilling an ecological role as a part of a functioning ecosystem.

High in a Tree pincushion (Leucospermum conocarpodendrum, a young juvenile baboon chews on pincushion flowers.
Baboons are drawn to the Tree pincushion – Leucospermum conocarpodendron, Kreupelhout for the sweet nectar.

What’s on the Menu?

This is another post on the theme of baboon foraging  – whether a seafood repast, or vegetarian delight, the baboons here on the Cape Peninsula are masters at sourcing a varied diet.  Though at times there are opportunities to raid for ‘human derived food’, for the most part they’re out foraging in the natural environment.

I came across this scene in the late afternoon when this troop of baboons was making it’s way to an overnight sleep-site.  Most had well stocked cheek pouches but a few were still adding to this stash with a last snack or two.  Of interest was a mother with a baby riding jockey-style, confidently perched atop her back, munching on a clutch of succulent grass roots.  Suddenly she veered off into the bush.  Aha!  She’s spotted something of interest, i thought and stopped to watch.  Up she jumped and junior had to react quickly, but for the arched tail (Chacma baboons belong to the Old World monkey group and do not have prehensile gripping tails), he may have slid off ignominiously.   What was the prize up there in the shrubbery ….. ?

Confident baby riding on mother’s back supported by the arched tail.
Up she jumped into the shrubbery
Scrabbling in the shrubbery, baby and all.
The prize is a rain spider’s (Palystes superciliosus) egg nest!
Baby baboon might not be so interested.
Discarded rain spider’s (Palystes supercilliosus) egg nest.

It was a surprise to find that she’d discovered a rain spider’s (Palystes superciliosus) egg sac.   It appeared she was after the eggs, as I examined the image in close-up view and couldn’t make out any hatchlings.  The mystery was where did Mother Rain Spider lurk, as they have a reputation for aggressively guarding their egg sacs until the spiderlings hatch?!    Now where were we with that menu?  A couple of weeks ago I observed this same troop sucking on condom wrappers –  this incident left me wondering about the dangers of spiders and whether baboons suffer from spider bites as we humans do?

Roaming along the urban edge: dispersing male baboon

Some years ago this young baboon came on a ‘recce’ round our neighbourhood.  It’s not an easy life  when that testosterone kicks in and the males leave the natal troop to hook up with another.  Dispersing along the urban edge brings a raft of problems not least finding the way through the suburbs. To assist them they are often darted with a sedative and transferred by vehicle to another area where there are nearby troops. The transition and being accepted into another troop takes time, and it’s not always successful.