The Gelada Baboon

The Gelada is a baboon with a mane and a tail and canines of a lion, and a red heart on its chest. Although it has an impressive appearance, it is actually a peaceful herbivore that allows visitors to approach to within a few metres.

This primate is endemic to the grassy meadows and escarpments of the Ethiopian highlands between 1,500 and 4,000 metres above sea level. It is a diurnal and terrestrial primate that feeds mainly on grasses, blades of grass and young shoots. Seated, the Gelada puts them in his hand until he has a certain quantity, and he then carries these in his mouth. The Gelada has the most developed (most opposable) thumbs among ancient world monkeys, allowing the baboon to pluck grasses with great dexterity to find the nutrients.

With a population of only 5,000, mainly in the Simien National Park, the Gelada baboon is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN. Males are very easily recognizable as they are much larger and heavier than females. They have thick fur that resembles to a mane and this has earned them the nickname of “lion monkey”. On their torso there is a distinctive red zone devoid of hair.

Geladas live in small groups with a male, several females and their offspring. The vigilance and aggression of the male Gelada protects and secures the harem. He works hard to retain power that is as fragile as it is exhausting, while the females busy themselves mainly with their young. The social life of the Geladas is a spectacle, with the competition between males being the main act. The threatening display of apparent dominance, in fact, belies his terror before an attack by a challenger.