Robert Sapolsky’s book, A Primate’s Memoir, describes in detail the interactions within an African baboon community. Such communities function to enable the biggest, strongest, most-fertile individuals to flourish and reproduce so that the majority of offspring are produced by dominant individuals and carry their superior genes. This means that baboons form hierarchical societies ruled by a dominant alpha-male individual.
One of the great advantages of studying animals in their natural environment, particularly primates, is that we inevitably learn something about ourselves in the process. We can sometimes even discern which behaviours can fairly be used to ‘mirror back’ our failure (or refusal) to develop effectively into human beings. Other observations can remind us of important behaviours common to all primates that we have unwisely left behind. We are called back to our animal instinct and challenged to temper our overly-busy, productive, ‘sophisticated’ lifestyles.
So, what do we observe from baboons that we can learn from? The baboon community shares the responsibility of raising young so parents are not left isolated in nuclear families. Grooming each other is considered an important activity for all members of baboon society so that no individual suffers from the neglect of a touchless existence. Mating is generally initiated by the female baboons. When they are sexually aroused and interested in copulation they present themselves to the males and foreplay begins.
Within the alpha-male, hierarchical community-structure of baboons, there are some behaviours that would be considered unevolved and unacceptable in human society. These include: males grabbing babies to protect themselves from other males, alpha-males occasionally forcing females to copulate against their will, and a small number of dominant individuals consuming the lions-share of all community resources.
I will leave you to contemplate the lessons we may choose to learn from our baboon friends.