Research Article: A Pacific Culture among Wild Baboons: Its Emergence and Transmission

Date Published: April 13, 2004

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Robert M Sapolsky, Lisa J Share

Abstract: Reports exist of transmission of culture in nonhuman primates. We examine this in a troop of savanna baboons studied since 1978. During the mid-1980s, half of the males died from tuberculosis; because of circumstances of the outbreak, it was more aggressive males who died, leaving a cohort of atypically unaggressive survivors. A decade later, these behavioral patterns persisted. Males leave their natal troops at adolescence; by the mid-1990s, no males remained who had resided in the troop a decade before. Thus, critically, the troop’s unique culture was being adopted by new males joining the troop. We describe (a) features of this culture in the behavior of males, including high rates of grooming and affiliation with females and a “relaxed” dominance hierarchy; (b) physiological measures suggesting less stress among low-ranking males; (c) models explaining transmission of this culture; and (d) data testing these models, centered around treatment of transfer males by resident females.

Partial Text: A goal of primatology is to understand the enormous variability in primate social behavior. Early investigators examined interspecies differences, e.g., that pair-bonding is more common among arboreal than terrestrial primates (Crook and Gartlan 1966). Attention has also focused on geographical differences in behavior within species (Whiten et al. 1999). Often, such differences reflect environmental factors (e.g., a correlation between quantities of rainfall and foraging time) or, in theory, could reflect genetic drift. However, increasing evidence suggests that group-specific traits can also represent “traditions” or “cultures” (the latter term will be used, commensurate with the near consensus among primatologists that the term can be appropriately applied to nonhuman primates).

Subjects were a troop, Forest Troop, of olive baboons (Papio anubis) living in the Masai Mara Reserve of Kenya. Olive baboons live in multimale troops of 30–150 animals, with polygamy and considerable male–male aggression. Males change troops at puberty and, as adults, achieve ranks in somewhat fluid dominance hierarchies. In contrast, females remain in their natal troop, inheriting a rank one below that of their mother.



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