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Baboons Are Democrats? Primates Have Government Too

Jun 27, 2015 12:10 AM EDT
olive baboon

(Photo : Flickr: William Warby)

As it turns out, not every primate will accept a perpetual game of "follow the leader." A new study has found that baboons will often make their decisions democratically, valuing other aspects of their social hierarchy beyond simply obeying the alpha male.

Despite what we think we know about primates after watching "Nature" and the Discovery Channel, it turns out that "it's not necessarily the biggest alpha males that influence where groups go," study co-author Meg Crofoot, an expert in anthropology at the University of California, Davis, said in a statement. "Our results illustrate an important distinction between social status and leadership, and show that democratic decision-making takes place even in highly stratified societies."

But how did she and her colleague reach these results? According to the study, recently published in the journal Science, researchers fitted nearly a whole troop of olive baboons - 25 old world monkeys in all - with GPS tracking collars for two weeks during a 2012 visit to the Mpala Research Center in Kenya. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : Flickr: Stig Nygaard)

The trackers provided Crofoot and her colleagues with what she described as an "unprecedented windows into the lives of group-living of animals," knowing where and when they were within a quarter of a meter (0.8 ft) every second of the day.

As a result, the researchers were able to determine that, "patterns of collective movement in baboons are remarkably similar to models that can predict the movements of fish, birds and insects, which can be predicted using a simple set of rules such as 'follow your neighbor,'" according to co-author Damien Farine.

This implies that, decision-making, such as when to eat or when to move locations isn't entirely started by the alpha male.

"Decision-making in complex societies may not be all that different than that in animals with more simple societal structures," Crofoot added. "They may all be playing by the same rules."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

 - follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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