Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

What Makes Baboons Bold?

By Stephen Luntz

Behavioural ecologists need to rethink their measures of animal boldness after two tests, supposedly for the same characteristic, did not correlate in baboons.

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Dr Alecia Carter made a name for herself as an Honours student studying friendship networks among kangaroos (AS, October 2007, p.43). For her PhD at the Australian National University she looked at baboon personality.

“It makes sense for animals to adopt the optimal strategy in any given situation,” she says. “But if you’ve ever owned a dog you’ll know they act differently to other dogs faced with the same situation.

“What I want to know is why they act differently. Is there an advantage to adopting a different behaviour? For example, bold individuals may gain greater access to resources, but timid ones may be less likely to be eaten by predators.”

However, in the course of her work Carter saw problems with personality trait definitions. She tested boldness by presenting the baboons with a stuffed puff adder and found that the baboons most likely to flee the snake also spent the longest examining it when they eventually approached. This contradicts the idea that absence of alarm and time spent examining a novel object are both measures of the same trait.

Moreover, Carter revealed in Animal Behaviour an absence of correlation between these responses and reactions when presented with a dyed hard-boiled egg. As an object they had never encountered before this provoked a range of responses. “Some of the baboons were very wary – they wouldn’t even...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.