Yvonne de Jong and Thomas Butynski are exploring eastern Uganda and western Kenya to study primates, supported by a grant from the National Geographic Society. See what they found on the higher altitudes of Mount Elgon.
Baboons (genus name: Papio; Kiswahili: nyani) are the most widespread of Africa’s monkeys. Occupying most of Africa south of the Sahara, baboons inhabit almost all types of vegetation. It is not difficult to find baboons on the beach of East Africa, in the Fynebos of South Africa, in semi-arid northern Kenya (see our earlier post: “Finding a New Monkey for East Africa”), in bamboo forest in Senegal, or in montane forest in Tanzania and Uganda.
It is more difficult, however, to find them this far up a mountain.
During one survey we explored Mount Elgon on the Kenya-Uganda border. An enormous dormant volcano, Mount Elgon rises 14,177 feet above sea level at Wagagai, Uganda, has the broadest base (about 1,540 square miles) of any free-standing volcano in the world, and is protected by two national parks (one in Uganda and one in Kenya).
The olive baboon (Papio anubis) is one of six species of non-human primate on Mount Elgon. In East Africa, olive baboons are known to occur at elevations as low as 1,770 feet (Meru National Park, Kenya), and as high as 7,780 feet in Kenya (Nyahururu), and 8,200 feet in Uganda (Echuya Forest Reserve).
The highest altitude reported for the species anywhere is a staggering 12,630 feet on Mount Orobo in Ethiopia.
Baboons are famous for their “attitude.” They generally live in groups containing 30 to 200 individuals, and they often become “familiar” with people, something that can become very clear when you enter a national park in East Africa. The group that we encountered lounging around the headquarters of Mount Elgon National Park on the Kenya side at about 7,000 feet was no different.
On February 21, 2015, we drove upwards from the headquarters of Mount Elgon National Park (Kenya side) through grasslands and montane forests considered sacred by people in the area, past caves and basalt bluffs, and through bamboo forests at 7,900 feet. We came to a halt where the track ends at 8,983 feet—only 10.5 miles from the Uganda border.
Here there is a mix of gallery montane forest, open woodland, and grassland. Ahead the afro-alpine moorland begins. While enjoying the breathtaking views both below and above us, we were surprised to see a group of olive baboons about a quarter mile away. These olive baboons are 1,207 feet higher than recorded for Kenya—indeed, this is the highest record for all of East Africa.
During this project we encountered 30 groups of olive baboons. With the exception of two groups, all of the groups were within protected areas. Even this most adaptable of Africa’s primates is struggling to survive outside of protected areas. Baboons close to humans are generally crop raiders. Farmers have little tolerance for “food-stealing monkeys.” Beyond this, Africa’s human population is doubling about every 20 years. One result is that people are rapidly destroying and degrading the habitats of baboons.
An overview of the causes and effects of baboon-human conflict can be accessed at: “Guess who’s coming to dinner.”
For more articles and pictures of baboons and the other primates in East Africa, visit our site at wildsolutions.nl.