Sometimes, people fear that baboons do not have any better choice than going in the urban environment to forage due to human encroachment over natural areas. We mapped baboon food sources and the probability of encountering field rangers over the area. We found that while baboons were able to find food sources in the natural environments with low risks, they can find 10 times richer food items in the urban environments!
Each point represent one GPS localisation, the colour of the point shows how active the baboon is at the specific location, from blue, when the baboon is inactive to red, when engaging in intense activities
With such high rewards it is not surprising that the baboons are happy to take the risks of entering the city, but how are they doing this? Baboons were staying in close vicinity to the urban environment, engaging in short but intense forays to the urban environment to take the most of these high calorie human food sources.
This obviously has consequences on baboons’ ecology, and we found that these baboons were foraging only about 10% of their time, compared to about 50% of their time elsewhere on the African continent. Indeed, switching from a time-expensive low-risk foraging strategy, they engage into brief and risky high-activity forays into the urban space.
Our results present unequivocal evidence of an extreme behavioural flexibility. Such behavioural flexibility has long been considered a central component of a species ability to cope with human-induced environmental changes, but explicit quantification of its occurrence and the associated trade-offs has been lacking in wild animal populations.
Now that we have uncovered the tactics of these canny baboons, management knows exactly what to do to encourage baboons to go back to natural foraging strategies. By holding the baboons further than 500m from the urban edge, the management team could potentially increase the costs of going in the urban environment and could potentially equilibrate the costs and the rewards.