Today, Dr. Marion Tafani is giving us some news about the Baboon Project.
Things are going forward with the collection of few grams of each food item potentially consumed by baboons in the field. After visiting various riverbeds in several farms of the Laingsburg district, we collected many berries (Bloubos, Karoo num num, Tortoise berries, … ), some seeds (Sweet thorn, …) and few grasses and roots that baboons seem to like. Even tree gum and crab remains have been collected when found next to baboon tracks or sleeping sites.
As baboons are known to favor food with a high nutritional, value we also collected maize, lucerne and pellets that are given to sheep as a supplement when climatic conditions are harsh. Additionally, in farms where baboons are suspected to attack livestock, animal products like sheep meat and milk were collected. Baboons could indeed target this nutrient-rich dairy product found in lamb stomach (special thanks to Johan Le Roux, Riaan Le Roux and Piet Gouws for their help in milking ewes).
All those samples will be analyzed at the UCT lab. By comparing stable isotope ratio of baboon tissues (hair, bones) with the potential food items consumed, we should be able to reconstruct baboon diet because a direct relationship exists between the type of food being consumed and the corresponding isotopic “signature” found in the animal tissue. When the animal eats a certain type of plant, it will exhibit an isotopic value in its tissue that is representative of that specific type of plant. If this animal consumes animal protein, it should exhibit a different isotopic signature. Given that no solid evidence of meat eating has been shown in Karoo baboons so far, this approach will allow us to get more information about their feeding habits in this area and evaluate the potential proportion of meat in their diet.