A primatologist in Ethiopia noticed an unusual relationship between the region’s gelada monkeys and wolves. The wolves were found roaming freely among the geladas as they hunted for mole-rats. The monkeys seemed calm and relaxed around the wolves, without fear, despite the fact that the wolf could easily eat a member of the gelada family. Therefore, the scientists wondered if perhaps the wolves had been domesticated by the monkeys or if some sort of mutual bond was formed.
Primatologist Vivek Venkataraman, of Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, watched the monkeys and wolves interact for two weeks to determine if the domestication process had occurred. Venkataraman noted that it was unusual for a predator and its prey to interact in this manner and witnessed the same monkey group run from a pack of feral dogs. This indicated that the monkeys saw feral dogs as a threat, but not the wolves. This lead Venkataraman to conclude that the galedas did not view the wolves as a threat, but why?
Venkataraman noted that instead of the monkeys domesticating the wolves, it appeared that the intelligent wolves had changed their threatening behaviors around the monkeys to take advantage of foraging opportunities.
“Ethiopian wolves appear to habituate gelada herds to their presence through nonthreatening behaviour, thereby foregoing opportunistic foraging opportunities upon vulnerable juvenile geladas in order to feed more effectively on rodents.”
In other words, the Ethiopian wolves realized that the rodents in the area were much easier to catch when geladas were foraging the area, as it stirred up the rodent population. Therefore, the wolves began exhibiting non-threatening behavior towards the monkeys in order to ensure the monkeys would continue foraging in their presence, making it easier for them to triple their rodent kills. Venkataraman said that the wolves were able to more effectively kill their prey, the rodents, in the presence of the monkeys. However, domestication was not a likely factor in the process, as there was no apparent reciprocal benefit to the monkeys aside from not getting eaten.
Though it doesn’t appear the Ethiopian wolves have been tamed by the monkeys, baboons have been documented kidnapping and taming feral dog puppies and accepting them into their families. The baboons, which were featured in the documentary Animals Like Us, can be seen stealing puppies from their mothers at a young age and raising them on their own. The puppies are cared for by the baboons and, after domestication, treated as a member of the family. The two species share reciprocal benefit, as the feral dogs are cared for by the baboons and in return offer protection to the baboon families and stand guard at night.
What do you think of baboons domesticating feral dogs, much like humans have throughout history?
[Image Credit: YouTube]