Saturday, 19 December 2009
Kwetsani's Chacma Baboons are Opportunistic Carnivores
Tony vsisted Kwetsani in October and we have plans to build this fantasic lodge in to our safari plans for 2010. .
The chacma baboon (Papio ursinus), the largest and most common of all baboons, is the only species found in Botswana. Chacma baboons live in troops averaging between 20 and 50 members. On Kwetsani Island there are presently two large troops, numbering around 80 animals in total.
Kwetsani also hosts large herds of red lechwe, which are the most common antelope found in this region. Herds of 100 - 200 lechwe can be seen grazing on the floodplains in front of Kwetsani Camp and quite often these two species can be found intermingling quite happily as they forage.
During a morning game drive on Kwetsani's northern floodplains, guests George, Nancy and Jaques, guided by OP, were observing a troop of baboons weaving in and out of a large herd of lechwe, whilst foraging for insects. What appeared to be an idyllic early morning setting suddenly became considerably less idyllic. A young sub-adult lechwe, lying on the periphery of the herd, was suddenly set upon by a large male baboon. The animal was so startled that there was no opportunity for an escape. Guests watched in horror as the large baboon proceeded to rip chunks of meat from the antelope whilst it was still alive. The most amazing thing of all was that, although the animal was whinnying in distress, the rest of the herd appeared to be oblivious to its plight and simply moved off slightly and carried on grazing as if nothing was happening.
Although it is not uncommon for baboons to prey on small mammals, it is unusual to see a baboon attack a sub-adult antelope which, quite possibly, weighed as much as the baboon itself. OP has suggested that perhaps the animal had been injured and this is what attracted the baboon's attention in the first place. Baboons have an incredibly advanced sense of smell, as well as very large canine teeth because they are carnivorous. The canine teeth, which can be as long as 5cm (2 inches), are used to defend themselves and can quite easily inflict a deep wound in a predator. If the lechwe had been injured and bleeding, it is quite possible that the baboon would have been attracted by the smell of blood, sidled over to observe the animal and, being an opportunist, made a grab at the lechwe which gave little resistance due to its injury. One morning we observed a young teenage baboon making an opportunistic grab at the leg of a young bushbuck while they were both foraging close to each other.
The chacma baboon is described by Jonathan Kingdon (The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals) as "an opportunistic omnivore with a preference for bulbs, roots, shoots, seeds or fruits. Invertebrates, small vertebrates, seashore life, fungi and lichen are eaten as and when available. Crops (maize, tomatoes, citrus and root crops) are raided in settled areas. Lambs and smalls stock are taken in some ranching areas".
It is very interesting to note that over the past two years, staff and guests at Kwetsani have witnessed baboons killing and eating newborn bushbuck on three occasions. On another occasion a guest reported seeing the troop of baboons "hunting" - as she described it, a sub-adult bushbuck. This incident occurred at the height of the flood this year and it was suggested that the baboons might have been experiencing difficulty finding food on the island. This is a possibility, but it is also interesting to note that the baboons living in this area are well-adapted to this wet environment and are quite accustomed to crossing large bodies of water in order to get to other islands if the food source in their territory is becoming scarce.
The chacma baboons on Kwetsani Island have also been observed killing and eating baby vervet monkeys and Smith's bush squirrels.
It is uncertain what studies have been conducted in the floodplains, but Richard Estes reports that in South Africa baboons can become major predators of young sheep and goats. This behaviour is normally practiced by large male baboons and they normally don't share their prey. It would be difficult to establish, as a percentage, how frequently these baboons prey on other mammals but it would appear as if the Kwetsani baboons have developed a definite taste for fresh venison.
If you are3 interested in a stay at Kwetsani or want to know more about the Delta contact Tony he will be happy to tell you all you need to know.