An anecdote of successful fighting against a predator by Grant's gazelle

(writing in progress)
In the book “Nature’s Paradise” by Jen and Des Bartlett (1967), most of a page (p. 139) is devoted to an anecdote which I have no reason to doubt but which I find hard to understand.
The location was Serengeti, early afternoon 17 Jan. 1958. A colour film (movie) was made of the entire sequence of actions (which I presume no longer exists, 64 years later).
A mature male anubis baboon was spotted starting to eat infant Grant’s gazelle (Nanger granti).
Suddenly the mother gazelle charged it, chasing it to a tree of Vachellia xanthophloea, one of just three in this open area, which the baboon climbed.
For some time the baboon was kept in the tree by the loitering gazelle, despite several attempts by the baboon to descend.
When the gazelle lost interest enough to wander a short distance, the baboon descended quickly and dashed for another tree nearby, being chased by the gazelle so rapidly that she seemed within inches of stabbing him.
This conflict continued for three hours, from one tree to another among the three trees. Meanwhile the rest of the group of baboons moved out of sight. The interaction was such that the baboon was clearly scared of the gazelle and the gazelle seems to hold back from actually stabbing the baboon although it seemed close enough to do so on occasion. I infer that the two adversaries never actually touched each other.
When by chance her movements brought the mother gazelle back to the carcase of its infant, she looked at without moving for perhaps 30 seconds, as if seeing for the first time that it was dead.
She then seemed to lose her anger and walked off slowly towards conspecifics without a backward glance, while the baboon ran rapidly in the opposite direction (note that he did not proceed back to the carcase to resume his meal).
From this I learn that the horns of the female Grant’s gazelle, although rather spindly and irregular-looking, are taken seriously by even an adversary as powerful as a male anubis baboon. Females of Grant’s gazelle weighs about 35 kg, compared with about 30 kg for males of the anubis baboon, so the adversaries were well-matched in body mass and both had dangerous weapons.

It is easy to imagine the baboon killing the gazelle despite the weapons of the latter, along the same lines that baboons often kill dogs (perhaps including individual dogs of about 35 kg). The fact that the mother gazelle tried to defend her infant does not surprise me, but the fact that the baboon took her so seriously does surprise me because it implies that his assessment was that she was more formidable than a dog. This assessment surprises me because females of Grant’s gazelle seldom use their horns and are not practised fighters; as far as I know they never spar intraspecifically, and it’s easy to imagine an individual female of Grant’s gazelle living its whole life without ever harming another animal with its horns or even touching a conspecific with its horns.

I do regard the horns of both male and female Grant’s gazelle as ‘idle weapons’ although those of the female are sometimes – as here – used to intimidate predators in situations where infants are threatened. Nobody would expect the male Grant’s gazelle to defend any infant and I doubt that any male gazelle uses its horns in anger on any predator. So I cannot really envisage a female gazelle deliberately stabbing a predator, least of all determinedly and repeatedly as would an animal that had evolved weapons for more than idle purposes. A male bushbuck yes, but a female Grant’s gazelle no.
Since males of baboons practise frequently in their macho ‘canine-fencing’, they are surely adept at dodging blows and thrusting and parrying, something that I can’t envisage the gazelle being a match for.
So the main puzzles in this anecdote are that

  • the male baboon viewed a mere gazelle, about its own size, as a match for its own strength and teeth, and
  • other members of the group of the anubis baboon did not join the fray, even if only to rob the prey; if they had joined the fray, it seems likely that the gazelle would have retired in fear from the collective threat of several individuals of baboons, potentially several males.

If this anecdote has involved a male bushbuck defending itself, I could accept the confidence of the antelope although I would not expect the conflict to last longer than the time taken to tree the baboon once.
Nanger sp.:

The following video clip and photo may help to explain why I find Des Bartlett’s anecdote so puzzling.

They show that adult male individual of the anubis baboon hardly takes the threat seriously from an adult female individual of Thomson’s gazelle (Eudorcas thomsoni), despite the fact that this gazelle does possess short sharp horns. The baboon does take evasive action, but it by no means abandons the infant it is eating. Adult females of Thomson’s gazelle weigh about 18 kg, compared with about 35 kg in the case of Grant’s gazelle, so there is a two-fold difference in body mass involved.
See video at
Papio anubis & Eudorcas sp.:

(writing in progress)

Publicado el julio 1, 2022 08:06 MAÑANA por milewski milewski


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