Baboon Hierarchy

Sometimes we think, we’re the only ones – but we aren’t. Baboons, which branched of from our evolutionary stream (or vice versa) some 30 million years ago, definitely share interesting traits with us, and two biologists have put some of them squarely on the table.

(extracts from the NY Times)
Dr. Cheney and Dr. Seyfarth have summed up their insights in a book titled, “Baboon Metaphysics.” Their conclusion, based on many painstaking experiments, is that baboons’ minds are specialized for social interaction, for understanding the structure of their complex society and for navigating their way within it.

The shaper of a baboon’s mind (and our minds, of course) is natural selection. Those with the best social skills leave the most offspring.

“Monkey society is governed by the same two general rules that governed the behavior of women in so many 19th-century novels,” Dr. Cheney and Dr. Seyfarth write. “Stay loyal to your relatives (though perhaps at a distance, if they are an impediment), but also try to ingratiate yourself with the members of high-ranking families.”

Baboon society revolves around mother-daughter lines of descent. Eight or nine matrilines are in a troop, each with a rank order. This hierarchy can remain stable for generations.

By contrast, the male hierarchy, which consists mostly of baboons born in other troops, is always changing as males fight among themselves and with new arrivals.

Rank among female baboons is hereditary, with a daughter assuming her mother’s rank.

News of that fact gave great satisfaction to a member of the British royal family, Princess Michael of Kent. She visited Dr. Cheney and Dr. Seyfarth in Botswana, remarking to them, they report: “I always knew that when people who aren’t like us claim that hereditary rank is not part of human nature, they must be wrong. Now you’ve given me evolutionary proof!”

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