Sunday, January 3

Mortimer the Midlife Crisis Male

I don't visit the second troop very often, but over the course of my visits I have been more and more struck by the behavior of a grizzled male called Mortimer.

Senior males cannot be described as typical because outside of the Cape Peninsula, they are quite rare. The life of a male is short and violent. My guys lead violent lives to be sure, but they are not all that short because there are no predators to pick them off after they are injured in a fight. Thus, we have a unique culture of older males in these troops.

Mortimer is certainly not young. I say this because he is missing all of his canine teeth. Baboons are not carnivorous, so their canines only get use in heated brawls. Over the years, you'll see the massive canines yellow and chip away. I don't know if they fall out from the accumulated strain or have to be broken out by a traumatic event because this kind of thing can only happen four times in a male's lifetime, and they fight far too often for me to be able to pick out the moment when a baboon loses a coveted fang.

Morty also has the big coat and deeply lined muzzle of an elderly baboon. Though, his coat isn't a massive ball of shag like that of Chester. We debate over just how old Mortimer is, since he looks old but exhibits youthful behavior which I shall describe.

When a foreign troop can be heard (often through wahoos) nearby, the sub-adults of a troop will often edge to the periphery of their troop, in the direction of the offensive sounds. Male baboons inevitably "disperse" when they come of age. In order to preserve the flow of genes and reduce incest, young adult males will change troops. When males this age skirt to the edge of their own troop, they might be seeking any and all information that can be gleaned about the territory and behavior of the neighboring troops... one of which they will go on to join.

The funny thing is, Mortimer engages in this behavior as well. When the sub-adults wander towards the adjacent troop, Mortimer is commonly found at the front of the bunch, keenly interested in the prospects afforded by other troops.

To my knowledge, there are no studies which describe dispersing fully adult males. Once a male joins a new troop, it is assumed he will stay there for life. Yet, Mort acts like a sub-adult, getting into fights, acting aloof, showing interest in other troops. The key difference is that he is larger and much more experienced that the sub-adults of his troop. If he is on the young side, as some believe, then maybe he's in a bad position, for the alpha male of the troop is a commanding individual. Mortimer is no wimp of a baboon, so perhaps he has some virility left in him and wishes to have the chance to use that fire before it goes out.

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