Giant Volcano and Its Baboons With Altitude!

Juvenile yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus) in thorny bushland near Bura, eastern Kenya. Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

Yvonne de Jong and Thomas Butynski are exploring eastern Uganda and western Kenya to study primates. See what they found on the higher altitudes of Mount Elgon.

Baboons (genus name: Papio; Kiswahili: nyani) are the most widespread of Africa’s monkeys. Occupying most of Africa south of the Sahara, baboons inhabit almost all types of vegetation. It is not difficult to find baboons on the beach of East Africa, in the Fynebos of South Africa, in semi-arid northern Kenya (see our earlier post: “Finding a New Monkey for East Africa”), in bamboo forest in Senegal, or in montane forest in Tanzania and Uganda.

It is more difficult, however, to find them this far up a mountain.

A juvenile yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus) looks out among thorny bushland near Bura, eastern Kenya. (Photograph by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski)

During one survey we explored Mount Elgon on the Kenya-Uganda border. An enormous dormant volcano, Mount Elgon rises 14,177 feet above sea level at Wagagai, Uganda, has the broadest base (about 1,540 square miles) of any free-standing volcano in the world, and is protected by two national parks (one in Uganda and one in Kenya).

The olive baboon (Papio anubis) is one of six species of non-human primate on Mount Elgon. In East Africa, olive baboons are known to occur at elevations as low as 1,770 feet (Meru National Park, Kenya), and as high as 7,780 feet in Kenya (Nyahururu), and 8,200 feet in Uganda (Echuya Forest Reserve).

The highest altitude reported for the species anywhere is a staggering 12,630 feet on Mount Orobo in Ethiopia.

Baboons are famous for their “attitude.” They generally live in groups containing 30 to 200 individuals, and they often become “familiar” with people, something that can become very clear when you enter a national park in East Africa. The group —> Read More