In a study published today in The American Naturalist, a group of scientists led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have used a technique developed to study human consumer choices to investigate what influences a baboon's foraging decisions. The technique, known as discrete choice modelling, has rarely been used before in animal behaviour research. It showed how baboons not only consider many social and non-social factors when making foraging decisions, but also how they change these factors depending on their habitat and their own social traits.
Over a six month period in Tsaobis Leopard Park in Namibia, ZSL scientists followed troops of chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) on foot from dawn to dusk. They recognised individual baboons by distinguishing features, and closely observed both the aggressive and friendly social relationships between baboons, noting which food patch they foraged in and who they foraged with. As expected, baboons were more likely to use patches containing more food. More interestingly, they also paid attention to their social relationships with other baboons in the patches.
Harry Marshall, from ZSL and Imperial College London conducted the research. He says: "More dominant baboons preferred using patches containing animals who they were dominant to, and so more likely to be able to steal food from. However, these less dominant baboons seemed to compensate for this by preferring patches containing animals with whom they had good social bonds and so were more likely to tolerate them."
ZSL's Dr Guy Cowlishaw added: "These findings show how animals' decision-making can be dependent on where they are and who they are. This suggests that some animals can change their behaviour to adjust to a changing environment."
Scientists at ZSL will continue working with collaborators and use the findings from this study to help them investigate how baboons' foraging behaviour is affected by changes in the environment, and the impact this will have on socially foraging species in the future.
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Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: the key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. The Society runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research in the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in over 50 countries worldwide. For further information please visit www.zsl.org
ZSL Tsaobis Baboon Project
The Tsaobis Baboon Project is long term-study of the chacma baboon (Papio ursinus) population at Tsaobis Leopard Park, Namibia. It aims to use this baboon population to answer fundamental questions in behavioural and population ecology and, where appropriate, use these findings to inform conservation and management. The Project has been running since 2000 in affiliation with the Gobabeb Desert Research Foundation, Namibia and with the kind permission of the Namibian government.
Imperial College London
Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.
Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve global health, tackle climate change, develop sustainable sources of energy and address security challenges.
In 2007, Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust formed the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre. This unique partnership aims to improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible.