Patterns of predation and meat-eating by chacma baboons in an Afromontane environment
Meat-eating among non-human primates has been well documented but its prevalence among Afromontane baboons is understudied. In this study we report the predatory and meat-eating behaviours of a habituated group of gray-footed chacma baboons (Papio ursinus griseipes) living in an Afromontane environment in South Africa. We calculated a vertebrate-eating rate of 1 every 78.5 hours, increasing to 58.1 hours when unsuccessful predation attempts were included. A key food source was young antelopes, particularly bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus), which were consumed once every 115 observation hours. Similar to other baboon research sites, predations seemed mostly opportunistic, adult males regularly scrounged and monopolised prey, there was no evidence they used an active kill bite, and active sharing was absent. This is the first baboon study to report predation of rock python (Python sebae) eggs and likely scavenging of a leopard (Panthera pardus) kill (bushbuck) cached in a tree. We also describe several scramble kleptoparasitism events, tolerating active defence from antelope parents, and the baboons inhibiting public information about predations. In the latter case, baboons with meat often hid beyond the periphery of the group, reducing the likelihood of scrounging by competitors. This often led to prey carcasses being discarded without being fully exploited and potentially providing resources to scavengers. We also highlight the absence of encounters with numerous species, suggesting the baboons are a key component of several species’ landscapes of fear. Given these findings it seems likely that their ecological role in the Soutpansberg has been undervalued, and such conclusions may also hold for other baboon populations.