The dynamics of social relationships among female Chacma baboons (Papio cynocephalus ursinus) in Zululand.
The focus of this study is the effect of environmental conditions on the social relationships among females in a free-ranging troop of chacma baboons (Papio cynocephalus ursinus), in a southern woodland habitat. The female dominance hierarchy, rank related differential costs and benefits to individuals, and the nature of special relationships between females, were followed. The study was conducted for a total of 18 months during three years, at Mkuzi Game Reserve, Zululand, South-Africa. The study troop occupy a rich woodland habitat with abundant food resources. Visibility under these conditions is poor and the baboons are subjected to leopard predation. Intra-troop competition for food among female primates and its effect on lifetime reproductive success, has been widely stressed to be a major cost for low ranking females. No evidence of competition for food was found among females at Mkuzi. It is suggested that the main cause for mortality may be predation by leopards, and that females compete mainly over a safe spatial position. The following characteristics of female sociality at Mkuzi may support this suggestion: 1. While no indication of rank related feeding behaviour, reproductive success, or 'attractiveness' to others was found, the higher ranking females had more access to central, and thus better protected, spatial positions in the troop. 2. The importance of social associations among females at Mkuzi seems to lie in mutual grooming and protection from predation by the vicinity to each other, and not in coalitionary support. Female associates were thus not necessarily adjacent ranking and probably not kin. 3. Although female dominance hierarchy was usually stable, the lowest ranking adult female has promoted her rank independently, following the disappearance of her only female associate and during her pregnancy, when she was probably subjected to high risk of predation. 4. Following troop fission, most females chose to improve their own rank position by adopting the AYS strategy (Abandon Your immediate Superior in rank), rather than joining associates. It is suggested that the resident males were responsible for the initiation of troop fission, in order to decrease the high cost of sexual competition to them, by reducing the number of males in each daughter troop. High intensity of competition between males was the result of the high female reproductive success. Risk of predation, and therefore the cost to individual females, increased after fission. This study may present an additional accumulating behavioural evidence on adaptations environmental conditions. the of flexibility primates example to of social and to various environmental conditions.