Here’s the Dirt on the Baboons’ New “Digs”

December 2, 2020

If you’ve been to the Zoo lately, you may have noticed our incredible new baboon habitat. The baboon habitat opened as part of the A Step into Africa expansion in 2008, and, apart from some cosmetic work, it was largely unchanged since then. Our animal care staff noted that the baboons needed something new, so they made a plan to add a couple of new platforms. When Assistant Zoo Director Dr. Louis asked for help from Parks Director Patrick Meredith, Assistant Parks Director Chris Kirchmaier, and Horticulture Superintendent Mark Quinn, and the Zoo Docents contributed an enrichment grant to help make it possible, the plan exploded. The creativity of the Parks Department staff resulted in an environment rich with options for the baboons. By repurposing fallen trees from throughout Monroe County’s Parks, they used sustainable and naturalistic materials to build in new furniture throughout the habitat. Even more impressive, the Parks crew worked through nearly two weeks of daily rain and mud, placing large logs mostly by hand to facilitate a naturalistic but fun new design.  With the job complete, the results are amazing! So, a huge shout out to our amazing Monroe County Parks Department!

Unlike what you see on your favorite home improvement shows, our baboons didn’t have to move out during renovations. They were able to enjoy their new home, and supervise the progress, as it was being constructed. The Parks crew was especially sensitive to ending each day at a “baboon-friendly” stopping point, so that the animals could assess the quality of each day’s work! And on the final day, it was a sight to see when the baboons were able to fully explore all the new additions to their home, and they continue to do so on a daily basis.

The new baboon abode provides an endless number of novel opportunities for digging, climbing, jumping, foraging, bouncing, lounging and just plain “hanging out”. You may not have known that baboons like to dig for insects and worms in the dirt, and they now have plenty of new soil to dig in!

Unlike other monkeys, baboons spend a lot of their time on the ground but they do sleep, eat, hang out and keep watch up high. So, we added logs and trees for climbing and sitting. Baboons also have a playful side, and we accommodated that too! For instance, there are hanging platforms and trampolines for jumping and swinging.

The novelty of the habitat enhancement is sustainable because we have options for hanging different enrichment items, like swings, that provide interest each day to enhance and improve the lives of our troop. Providing this enrichment on a daily basis is a very important aspect of what we do because it gives the animals choices in how they spend their time, control over their environment, and the opportunity to express their natural behaviors. In turn, this effort enhances their wellbeing.

While we’ve seen all the baboons up on new perches and trees, one baboon in particular has taken an extra liking to the trampolines! Kalamata bounces on the trampolines and makes his way from one side of the enclosure to the other by jumping off all the new platforms, without even touching the ground! He also uses the trampolines to lounge in the sun. It’s been amazing to watch him enjoy one of the structures we were most excited about!

So, please share in our excitement and plan a visit to the zoo so you can see for yourself how the baboons are doing in their new “digs”.

– Dr. Louis DiVincenti, Assistant Zoo Director – Animal Care & Conservation; Zoologist Jenna Bovee; Zoo Keeper Clare Belden; Zoo Keeper Linda Velasquez

Baboon Habitat Updates - photo by Sarah Hanson
Photo by Linda Velasquez

Header photo –  by Clare Belden

Photo by Dr. Louis
Photo by Sarah Hanson