23 May, 2009

The Emir of Wady Hadhramaut and his Harem

Anyone who has lived or spent time in Hadhramaut, especially in the Wady, will most probably have seen baboons; the hamadryas baboon, which belongs to the Genus Papio species and which is the northernmost of all the baboons. The same type of baboons can also be found in: Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Saudi Arabia. It's the hamadryas baboons which the ancient Egyptians revered and depicted in their art as sacred.

It's said that the hamadryas baboons were introduced to the Arabian Peninsula, by the ancient Egyptians. These days, due to human encroachment and modernization, the sight of these primates is becoming very rare here. Most baboons here and in Saudi Arabia - live very close to human settlements. Humans, as always, the most dangerous, most aggressive and most selfish of all living creatures - haven't been caring or kind to the baboons; and as these baboons are crop pests, that makes it even more difficult for them to survive.

One afternoon, near Seiyoun, in one of the many valleys in Wady Hadhramout, this group of about 20; of two males, several females and several little ones - had a snack of fruits. The males can easily be recognized by their thick, silver colored manes; the females are olive-brown colored. Mature males weigh almost 22 kg, while the females are only about half that weight; this big difference of weight between males and females, is common to baboons. These type of baboons have been known to live for up to 35 years in captivity.

The male, in the pictures above and below, which is alertly and defensively staring at the camera, is the dominant male; the leader; the 'emir'. It's he who has almost total exclusive rights to mating with the females in this group; it's he who herds the group while foraging for food; it's he who keeps the group together and safe, and keeps all other male competitors away. The 'subordinate' male seen in these pictures seated docilely, known as 'follower', is younger, most likely related to the 'emir' and will most of the time remain docile to the leader and 'respectful' of him. He just follows the group and the leader, and sometimes, in very rare cases, while the leader is not watching - gets the chance to mate with one of the females. The 'follower' too, might one day, get the chance of disposing off the 'emir' and take over the harem and group. Or something might happen to the leader, like an injury, that makes him ineffective, and the subordinate male will then take over. Should the dominant male be badly injured or become ill, its life is surely doomed and the 'follower' will certainly take over.

These baboons, are highly social animals, with the ability to communicate in various ways; with the male leader at the center of almost all the group's activities. They forage together, travel together and sleep together on rocky cliffs or wherever they feel safe; they eat: fruits, tree gum, insects, eggs of both birds and reptiles, seeds, flowers, grass, rhizomes, corms, roots, tubers and small vertebrates; and look for water to drink from whichever place which the leader feels is safest. Because of the aridity of these valleys and cliffs, these baboons must subsist on whatever edible items they can find. Many times, they have to scrounge for food in garbage dumps.

As all other natural predators have, now, been almost virtually wiped out here, the greatest and maybe the only danger these baboons now face, as with all wildlife here, is from Man. I have yet to meet a single Hadhramy who is considerate of these creatures. Although most people here, love watching a group of baboons go by, very few indeed, have any qualms about killing them. Most men who have guns, and that is almost all men here, find using these baboons as targets for learning how to shoot or for shooting practice - as very normal. I have seen many of such baboons being kept here as pets. Humans, in all parts of the world, dislike baboons; whatever the species. Except long ago, for some reasons, the ancient Egyptians had reverence for them. Humans consider baboons - pests; we always overlook the fact that it is us, humans, who are the most destructive and most dangerous here on earth.