Thursday, March 24

Troop Mind Journal 03/23

The troop mind is assumed to take form at some unclear point in the morning. When the baboons are starting to wake up, a few are on the ground, the important individuals in the troop are getting a feel for what kind of day it is going to be, I like to think that is when this primitive consciousness begins to congeal.

But what if they spend the night right next to another troop?

Just such a thing has happened in the forest a small number of times. On this particular day, the morning opened with restlessness. We weren’t quite sure what was going down at this point, but the truth quickly became apparent. When the main troop rushed down from the sleeping site and immediately headed for the feeding site, and the forest erupted into wahoos and screams, I headed up the hill to investigate.

I found an odd collection of baboons holding the frontier. There were 4 of them: Punzle, Cassandra, Danny, and Kirby. Punzle is well known to us, but none of the others have come up yet.

Kirby is no one too special. He’s an older juvenile, on the verge of being sub-adult. He’s recognizable by torn up ears, and long black side hairs on his head, which he probably inherited from one of the matrilines. He’s not the friendliest of young males, but few of them are at that age. He’s smack in his ‘tween years, where the excitability and extroversion of youth are giving way to the aggressiveness and seriousness of maturity. Right in the middle, their behavior is frequently dominated by extroversion and aggressiveness; the worst of both worlds.

Cassandra and Danny are both special baboons to me. Cassie isn’t particularly remarkable on the surface: she’s a mid-to-low ranking baboon, not too young, or sociable. But she’s a good mother, she doesn’t let her babies get themselves killed. She is also the first baboon female I nailed the identification for. She’s got the black hairs I mentioned earlier, and these highly distinctive half-moon patches on her callosities. Well, I can reliably see them, anyway.

Danny is a young male, a legitimate sub-adult. He’s also a surprisingly nice guy. He doesn’t let himself get pushed around by any but the likes of Aaron and Damian, but he’s not abusive to the females, either. Or us researchers. He’s young, but he looks like he’ll turn into a strong alpha one day, who’s liable to be as benevolent as a male can get.

These four stood there, at the far edge of the group, and alone, appeared to push the entirety of the Tim Curry group up the hill, and out of the sleeping site. The remainder of the main troop continued down hill, across the valley, toward the sleeping site. The four did not back down and rejoin their troop until a couple hundred meters had been allowed to open between the centers of the two groups.

It was not surprising to see Danny and Kirby at the edge. They’re young males and eventually looking to disperse to another troop where they can copulate with some more diverse females. They want to know as much as possible about what other troops are in the area. The strangest part was the lack of other young males at the edge.

The two females were the true oddity, however. I can’t think of reason why Cassie would like to risk harm; she doesn’t have a posse to back her up. Punzle does, in theory, but as the number 3 female, it surprising she wasn’t herded to safety by Aaron. The incident was a mess, and did not last very long, but the major outstanding question has remained: why were there so many females at the periphery, and so few young males?

Returning to where we began, when does this troop mind decision begin to form? The baboons are almost certainly aware of the presence of Tim Curry & Co. when they sit back to rest for the night. Could Tim Curry have arrived later at night after the main troop has nodded off? Considering all the experiments that have been done to show the impressive perception and awareness of a baboon troop, I could hardly allow myself to believe that an entire dysfunctional troop of baboons could just slip under the main troop’s radar.

I can sometimes tell, when I find the baboons arriving late to a sleeping site, that something is up. If there’s an excessive amount of screaming, barking, and wahooing, it will often indicate something is amiss. If I’m having a really outstanding evening, I’ll be able to recognize at least 5 distinct wahoos, which is a strong indicator that there’s more than one troop present, since the main troop only has 4 males capable of producing a solid wahoo. Still, that late in the evening, one seldom has enough light to distinguish baboons well enough to spot someone who is out of place.

So I have my hunches, which are more often correct than not. The baboons, on the other hand, must know. Then when does the decision take place? As Danny nods off into light sleep, is he thinking about how the first thing he’s going to do tomorrow is chase those crazy Tim Curry baboons out of the sleeping site? Did Aaron not think about his plan the next day, and thus allow Punzle to slip past his notice? Did Anna have some plan in mind overnight? Was it just the luck of the draw for her, and she wound up sleeping in a tree right by where Tim Curry slept?

All of these questions, and more, will not be answered next week on this blog, but I did find an excellent complementary story which happens not to shed light on anything.


  1. Hey there! I only just found your blog, very interesting! I am studying Conflict Resolution and at the moment I am doing a module on violence. Do you think apes are more or less violent than humans? I know some gruesome stories about gorillas, but our closest relatives, the bonobos, would you say they are more or less violent?

    Sorry, this is not very related to this post :)

  2. That's a very tricky question, and I wouldn't say there is any right answer. Apes are a very diverse group of animals. Some apes are widely believed to be less violent by far, like the Bonobos. Then there are orangutans, which might be less violent only because the males live comparatively solitary lives and are very difficult to observe.

    On the other hand, chimps are as closely related to us as bonobos, and they are known to be quite violent: murderous and even cannibalistic at times. The more we study the bonobos, for that matter, the more aggressive they appear to be, at time. On the third hand, humans have been shown to be capable of violent atrocities unmatched anywhere in the animal kingdom.