Grooming the Next Generation: The Gelada Social Network

It appears that, just like us, Gelada baboons love to network. In Season 1, Episode 1 of Planet Earth, David Attenborough describes how, like other primates, Gelada baboons use morning time as a chance to groom. However, unlike other primates, the Geladas chatter constantly during grooming in an effort to network with others. The Gelada baboon (which is actually not a baboon at all, but a species of Old World monkey) is scientifically known as Theropithecus gelada. It lives in the Highlands of Ethiopia.

Social relationships between Gelada baboons are largely based off of dominating rank and relatedness. The monkeys are separated from large groups into smaller units that signify relatedness to one another. Within this unit, they have a hierarchy, where some females in the unit are more dominant and therefore have a higher rank within their group, and these geladas on the top of the chain get most of grooming from the rest of the individuals in the group [4]. Females groom a large majority of the young geladas, but mainly within their own unit. In terms of interacting with other units, gelada females’ only social contact point with young monkeys of other units is through social play interactions [3]. But not all social contact amongst these monkeys is fun and beneficial; their interactions can be aggressive and hostile, or indifferent as well.

Grooming is the common basis for establishing relationships between individuals in primates [2]. These relationships often provide the basis for getting support when an individual is being attacked or harassed by another individual. For example, gelada females often support their grooming partners when they are attacked by other members of their unit, or a member from a neighboring unit. The likelihood that a female will help another female of her harem when she is threatened or attacked, is related to both how severe the attack is, and the amount of grooming time that has been devoted to that individual. Thus, grooming time can be used to foster relationships for potential allies. The presence of an ally can help an individual when they are under attack, help deter others from attacking, and may also make one feel less stressed by an attack [1]. Looks like humans aren’t the only species that benefit from having friends around!

by Kayla Holder and Kyra Watson

Planet Earth, Season 1, Episode 2, starting at approximately 4:30


  1. Dunbar RIM. 2018. Social structure as a strategy to mitigate the costs of group living: a comparison of gelada and guereza monkeys. Animal Behaviour 136: 53-64.
  2. Mac Carron P & RIM Dunbar. 2016. Identifying natural grouping structure in gelada baboons: a network approach. Animal Behaviour 114: 119-128.
  3. Mancini G & E Palagi. 2009. Play and social dynamics in a captive herd of gelada baboons (Theropithecus gelada). Behavioural Processes 82: 286-292.
  4. Johnson ET, Synder-Mackler N, Beehner JC & TJ Bergman. 2014. Kinship and dominance rank influence the strength of social bonds in female geladas (Theropithecus gelada). International Journal of Primatology 35: 288-304.

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