During 2020, PhD student Topu Rahman from Durham University, UK conducted his fieldwork at AWCRC studying the effects of human waste food on the behaviour and hormonal responses of a wild chacma baboon troop.
After habituating a troop of baboons that spends time at the local dump, Rahman and his team of research assistants recorded behavioural data through scan, focal and ad-libitum sampling. Additionally they collected faecal samples for laboratory analysis of glucocorticoid levels to assess stress. Although the study troop is small, they were subjected to several challenging events during the research period. They sleep under a water tower, near a village which often brings them into close proximity to local people. Baboons have been known to supplement their diet with items they “borrow” from people’s houses or gardens. This, along with their enjoyment of playing, especially on tin buildings before dawn, has brought them into some conflict with the villagers. During the initial study period, the troop lost one adult female to unknown natural causes in June, experienced one still-birth in July, and two separate shooting events in September and October. Sadly, nothing prepares you for finding the bodies of animals that you have studied intimately for months. Whilst working conditions, during fieldwork, can be harsh and unpleasant it does have many magical moments and it was a privilege for team to be able to observe the troops interactions so closely.
During data collection the team embarked on a mission to create a documentary demonstrating what research life really entails and to give an insight into a baboon troop that is using human food to supplement their diet. Please click the link below to watch the documentary:
Data collection on the troop is continuing and we look forward to future updates from Rahman’s analysis and the team collecting data in the field.