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Sex and friendship among baboons.

Sex and friendship among baboons

Adult male baboons are built to fight, with muscular bodies and long, sharp canine teeth. But contrary to traditional models of primate behavior, friendship outweighs fierceness as a means of attracting sexually receptive females, according to Shirley C. Strum of the University of California, San Diego.

"Males create friendships with females with later reproductive benefits in mind," Strum says. "Male persistence may outweigh female resistance in baboons as well as in humans."

From 1972 through 1987, Strum studied a large troop of olive baboons living on a 45,000-acre ranch in Kenya. She charted the reproductive behavior of 41 adult males.

Those most likely to mate with sexually receptive females had lived in the troop for three to five years and maintained friendships with their prospective mates. Baboon friends eat together, groom one another and engage in many other daily activities. A friengship between a male and female preceded mating 89 percent of the time, Strum says.

Male newcomers to a troop are often more aggressive than long-term male residents, but are much less likely to attract sexual partners, she notes. Only 25 percent of the time does one male take a receptive female from another male by being aggressive.

Older males are more successful at attracting mates than are younger males who have lived in the group the same amount of time, Strum points out. Social experience and knowledge of fellow group members, in addition to the nurturing of female friendships, are crucial in the baboon mating game.

There is a point of diminishing reproductive returns, however. Males living in the troop more than five years become less succesful at attracting mates. This, Strum says, may serve to discourage inbreeding.
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Title Annotation:Anthropology
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 22, 1989
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