Sunday, July 8, 2012

Predators of Baby Leopards: You Might Be Surprised

One of my favorite TV shows is BBC's Big Cat Diary, which I believe I have already mentioned once or twice.  It has been called by critics as "The soap opera of the Serengeti," and has played for a number of seasons, under various other titles.  Essentially, the shows premise is a log of what two prides of lions (the Marsh and Ridge Prides) are doing, as well as my two favorites, the leopards and the cheetahs.
This is neither a leopard nor a cheetah, but a baboon skeleton.  It's probably poor planning on my part to not put a picture of what I've already talked about so far, but you're going to have to deal with it.  Or just pretend that's a cheetah, baboons and cheetahs are practically the same animal anyways.
In one episode I was recently watching, one of the co-hosts, Saba Douglas-Hamilton, said something that I thought was very interesting about leopard cubs.  She said that the top three animal threats to African leopards (besides humans, forcing the IUCN to label the African leopard as "Near Threatened,") are lions, hyenas....and baboons.  Check out the baboon skeleton (above) and mounted stuffed specimen from the American Museum of Natural History below!
I was actually completely kidding before, baboons and cheetahs are not really that closely related at all, and very few people have an excuse to confuse the two.
I knew baboons were an issue to leopards as one of the leopard stars of the earlier series, dubbed Half-Tail, was missing half her tail, hence her name.  The two hosts at the time, Jonathan Scott and Simon King, said that they thought the missing half of her tail was due to either a lion attack or, more likely, baboons.
Chilling like a villain: a leopard takes a break after staring out the window all day and stressing out about those stupid robins in that stupid birdbath.  Those robins better consider themselves lucky that there's glass between them, you mark my words.  Photo Credit: Ted and Gail Neher
I had never really thought about it before, but when I heard Saba mention it, I thought that was kind of strange.  Well, I looked up "baboon skulls" on Google Images, and I think I get it now; their canines can grow up to two inches long.  As a good comparison, the average lion typically possesses two inch long canines.  Now that is some serious dental hardware; I'm glad I'm not a baboon dentist!  (That, and I'm guessing that you don't get paid very much).
A baboon skull mounted at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, New York.  Check out those nasty canines, they're frickin' huge!!
Baboons, like many primates (actually I believe all except for tarsiers), are omnivores, so theoretically they could use their canines to subdue and consume their prey.  However, it seems that male vs. male competition is the primary reason why baboons have such enormous canines.  Check out the "mandrill" webpage on the website for Bone Clones (for the lazy amongst you, HERE is a link), and you can see that the male has enormous teeth, while the female has a dentition that is much less impressive.  This seems to support the idea that baboons (at least the males) primarily use their teeth in interspecific intimidation, in order to frighten off other males and secure breeding rights to the females.

Works Cited:

Bone, C. (n.d.). Male and Female Mandrill Baboon Skull BC-010 BC-261. Retrieved November 14, 2014, from

Hunter, L., & Barrett, P. (2011). Carnivores of the world. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Scott, J., & Scott, A. (2003). Leopard. London: HarperCollins.

Swedell, L., & Saunders, J. (n.d.). Misconceptions about Baboons. Retrieved November 14, 2014, from

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