Culture

“Baboon males live longer lives if they’re socially connected.”

Since 1971, researchers have followed individual baboons in southern Kenya on a near-daily basis, noting who they socialized with and how they fared over their lifetimes as part of the Amboseli Baboon Research Project.

A 35-year study of more than 540 wild baboons in Kenya links strong social bonds to better chances of survival. Photo by Susan Alberts, Duke University

What has been discovered is that male baboons who form long term friendships with female groupings will live longer than males who do not.

The social groupings are where grooming takes place and males benefit just as much from this interaction as females. This is the case even when the females are not fertile.

The same has been found in the primate that is us – that those who live a solitary life tend to not live as long as those who have friendships and social bonds.

Analyzing data for 277 males and 265 females, the team from Duke University, North Carolina, estimated the ‘strength’ of the bonds in each baboon’s inner circle by measuring how often they spent time grooming with their closest friends.

Susan Alberts, chair of the evolutionary anthropology department at the university said:

“Baboon males live longer lives if they’re socially connected.”

With more research required to confirm if there is a strong causal link between increased social interaction and longevity, Susan Alberts added:

“How do primate friendships get ‘under the skin’ to lengthen life?

“We still don’t know; it’s one of the most wonderful black boxes in my life.”

CITATION: “Social Bonds, Social Status, and Survival in Wild Baboons: A Tale of Two Sexes,” Fernando A. Campos, Francisco Villavicencio, Elizabeth A. Archie, Fernando Colchero, Susan C. Alberts. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Sept. 21, 2020. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2019.0621

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