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Baboons choosy about dinner partners, study finds

September 15, 2012|By Amina Khan | Los Angeles Times
  • Chacma baboons are picky about whom they forage with, according to a study published in the American Naturalist.
Chacma baboons are picky about whom they forage with, according to a study… (Harry Marshall / Zoological…)

Humans often worry less about what they’re going to eat and more about whom they’re going to be eating with. Baboons, it turns out, might be just as picky about whom they dine with.

According to a study published this week in the American Naturalist, a team of researchers led by Harry Marshall of the Zoological Society of London studied the eating habits of chacma baboons (scientifically known as Papio ursinus) at Tsaobis Leopard Park in Namibia.  

Over a six-month period, the researchers followed 29 baboons from two social groups, observing a total of 683 “foraging decisions” -- noting where, and in what company, the animals looked for food. They then analyzed the results using a statistical technique that’s typically used to analyze human consumer choices. 

They found that just as a bully seeks out smaller kids to steal their lunch money, dominant baboons tended to pick areas with animals that were lower on the social totem pole, so they could steal their food if they so chose. 

Less dominant baboons, naturally, didn’t look to hang with the bullies. Instead, they gravitated toward other baboons they got along with. 

And unsurprisingly, the researchers found that baboons  -- no matter their rank -- foraged in patches with more available food. Every consumer likes to have options.

Follow me on Twitter @aminawrite.

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