Yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus)

Yellow baboons sitting on branch
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Yellow baboon fact file

Yellow baboon description

GenusPapio (1)

The distinctive elongated muzzle of the yellow baboon is the characteristic responsible for its scientific name, cyanocephalus, which originates from the Greek words kynos and kephalikos meaning ‘dog-head’ (4). The yellow baboon is also aptly named for the yellow-brown fur which covers the body except for the underside, which is white (5). Other distinctive features include a dark-skinned face covered in fine, yellow-grey fur and a prominent brow ridge (2). Male and female yellow baboons can not only be distinguished by the larger size of the male, but also by the male’s formidable canine teeth, and the brightly coloured sexual swellings which develop in the female during oestrus (2). The yellow baboon moves quadrupedally, holding the tail up at an angle from the body (2). There are three subspecies of the yellow baboon: the yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus cynocephalus), the Ibean baboon (Papio cynocephalus ibeanus), and the Kinda baboon, (Papio cynocephalus kindae), which can be differentiated using variation in tail position and shape (5).

Average male height: 120 cm (2)
Average female height: 97 cm (2)
Average male weight: 25.8 kg (2)
Average female weight: 11 kg (2)

Yellow baboon biology

The yellow baboon lives in multi-male/multi-female groups, known as troops, which can contain between 17 to 77 individuals (2). Both males and females form a linear dominance hierarchy, in which the highest ranking members have access to a larger amount of the troop’s valuable resources, such as food and mating opportunities (2). Females reach sexual maturity around five years of age, and will give birth to their first offspring at around six years. Gestation lasts 180 days and, typically, a female reproduces nearly every two years (4). After reaching sexual maturity, female yellow baboons reproduce consistently until old age (up to 40 years of age), and remain the primary caregivers to their dependent offspring (2).

A yellow baboon troop spends the majority of the day on the ground foraging, punctuated by periods of social activity. During the night, the troop retreats to trees in the ‘sleeping grove’, an area of forest that typically lies at the centre of the home range (2). The sleeping grove provides refuge from potential predators, including large cats, spotted hyenas, pythons, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), and of course humans (4). The yellow baboon is an opportunistic omnivore with an extraordinarily diverse diet, including grasses, dried seed pods, fungi, lichens, fruits, flowers, small invertebrates, reptiles, birds, bird eggs, and even other primates, such as vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops) and lesser bush babies (Galago senegalensis).

As a result of the large troop size, baboons are extremely sociable animals that have developed complex forms of communication. Signals such as intense staring, eyelid displays, ground-slapping, branch-shaking, and yawning to display the male’s impressive canine teeth, are used to communicate threat without escalating to physical fighting (2). Some friendly signals seen in baboons include grinning, lip-smacking, and presenting a body part for grooming, which can be important for reconciliation between two individuals that have had a dispute (6). Vocalisations are also an important form of communication in baboon troops, such as the loud “barks” given by adult males in reaction to dangerous situations (6).


Yellow baboon range

The yellow baboon is found in central and eastern Africa, in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Somalia, Tanzania, and Zambia (2).


Yellow baboon habitat

The yellow baboon inhabits thorn scrub, savannah, open woodland, and gallery forest throughout its range (2).


Yellow baboon status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Yellow baboon threats

The yellow baboon is hunted by local people, as an important source of protein, and as human population density in central Africa increases, hunting pressure is mounting. In addition to this, human’s continual destruction of the baboon’s natural habitat in some regions, to convert land for agricultural use, destroys important areas in which the yellow baboon can forage and shelter, and also results in the yellow baboon being hunted as a pest species when it is forced to raid agricultural fields for food (7). Accidental death on roads is also causing local population declines in this species, as well as its exportation from East Africa for medical research (2)


Yellow baboon conservation

Despite some yellow baboon populations being locally displaced as a result of habitat loss and hunting, overall this species remains widespread and common within its range. This is largely due to its opportunistic lifestyle and ability to adapt to an array of environments (1). This species is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that trade in the yellow baboon should be carefully controlled to prevent it becoming threatened in the future (3).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

To find out more about the conservation of baboons see:



Authenticated (24/08/10) by Dr Susan Alberts, Professor of Biology, Duke University.

This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


Gallery forest
Forest growing along a river or stream.
The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth.
Home range
The area occupied by an animal during routine activities, which is not actively defended.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, worms and spiders.
A combination of two organisms, a fungus and an alga. Owing to this partnership, lichens can thrive in harsh environments such as mountaintops and polar regions. Lichen typically form a crust-like or branching growth on rocks or tree trunks.
Linear dominance hierarchy
A ranking that determines who in a group gets first or best access to food, mating partners, and other resources. The top individual dominates all others, the second ranking individual is submissive to the top individual but is dominant over all others, and so on until the lowest animal in the hierarchy, who cannot dominate any other group member.
The time of ovulation (release of an egg from the ovary) in female mammals, when the female becomes receptive to males, also known as ‘heat’.
An organism that feeds on both plants and animals.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2010)
  2. Cawthon Lang, K.A. (2006) Primate Factsheets: Yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology. Primate Info Net, University of Wisconsin, Madison. Available at:
  3. CITES (April, 2010)
  4. Altmann, S.A., and Altmann, J. (1970) Baboon Ecology: African Field Research. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  5. Groves, C. (2001) Primate Taxonomy. Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington DC.
  6. Hall, K.R.L. and DeVore, I. (1965) Baboon social behaviour. In: DeVore, I. (Ed.) Primate Behaviour: Field Studies of Monkeys and Apes. Holt Rinehart Winston, New York.
  7. FitzGibbon, C.D., Mogaka, H. and Fanshawe, J.H. (2000) Threatened mammals, subsistence harvesting, and high human population densities: a recipe for disaster? In: Robinson, J.G. and Bennett, E.L. (Eds.) Hunting for Sustainability in Tropical Forests. Columbia University Press, New York.

Image credit

Yellow baboons sitting on branch  
Yellow baboons sitting on branch

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