In a country as diverse as Ethiopia, it is no surprise that located high up in the Semien Mountains you find the fascinating Gelada Baboon, also known as the “Bleeding-Heart” Baboon for obvious reasons. What is fascinating is that the Gelada are actually not baboons, as much as they share many similarities, baboons are omnivores and belong to the genus Papio. Geladas on the other hand belong to the genus Theropithecus are one of the few remaining graminivorous or “grass grazing” primates whose diet consists primarily of grass (90%), the other 10% is flowers and other vegetation.
The Gelada has some very distinct and beautiful features, with black skin and long golden-brown hair. The males also sport a long cape and massive canines which gives them a lion-like appearance. [Fun Fact: Gelada are the only primate that can lip-flip exposing their canines to show dominance]. Due to their different eating habits, you will find that these primates will spend most of the time sitting on their butts. So much so that they have developed a thicker layer of skin called the ischial callosities, making sitting more comfortable and give them the protection to drag themselves along the grass. They have the most developed thumb and index finger of all primates, allowing them to pick a blade of grass. Again, because they need to ensure that they are eating the most nutritious grass, they can identify the freshest blades and only pick those.
But maybe the most fascinating fact about the Gelada is that they have a very complex social system. Even though they do exist in large families they also herd together creating mega-families. Grass is in abundance, and they don’t find a need to compete for food. You will also find that as much as they have an alpha-male hierarchy, they allow sub-adult males to share in the harem of females. They allow the alpha-male to get a large majority of the spoils (83%) and in return due to the large size of the troops more males add to the overall protection of the family. They may look really scary but they are in actual fact rather passive primates.