By Elizabeth Preston
In the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, baboons live out their daily dramas. They tussle, they mate, they care for their young. Some are loners and others have lots of friends.
Now research has shown that those platonic relationships might be just as important as the relationships that make more baby monkeys. Male baboons live longer if they have more female friends.
The findings, published last week in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, came from one of the world’s longest-running studies of wild primates. Researchers have been continuously observing savanna baboons in Kenya’s Amboseli basin since 1971. They’ve amassed a data set that includes the births and deaths of hundreds of animals, as well as the baboons’ daily activities. One activity, grooming, is the basis for baboons’ social relationships.
“Grooming’s really interesting behavior,” in part because it isn’t always reciprocated, said Fernando Campos, a biological anthropologist at the University of Texas at San Antonio and one of the lead authors. Sometimes baboons take turns combing through each other’s fur for bugs and debris. At other times, one baboon may groom a higher-ranking baboon who doesn’t return the favor.
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