Male Baboons Live Longer if They Have Female Friends: Study


Oct 5, 2020


Image Credit: neprimateconservancy.org

We’ve heard different versions of “ek ladka aur ladki kabhi dost nahi ho sakte,” (“a girl and a guy can never just be friends”) right from the era of Maine Pyaar Kiya to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai to a modern-day grappling with the concept in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. For the longest time, society couldn’t get its head wrapped around the concept of male-female friendship that’s not centered around the inevitability of romantic or sexual attraction. While we knew human friendships added to a person’s emotional and physical well-being, even extending life expectancy, we never really internalized the idea of male-female friendships adding its own unique contribution to the mix. 

Well, we’re not waiting on human beings anymore. A new study conducted among 542 baboons in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, over the course of 35 years concludes male baboons with female friends live longer than those without. Baboons already share similarities with humans in terms of their interpersonal relationships, behaviors, and emotions, which add up to a genetic similarity of 94%, research shows. Now, we know they also engage in friendship in similar ways, with male-female friendships occupying one of the highest tiers in the hierarchy among baboon populations. 

The new study, published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, lays out the day-to-day activities of savanna baboons, with a special focus on their social movements and activities. While it restates what we already knew about female baboons — that they form “lifelong bonds” with other females and are known to live longer if they have formed these bonds — the study sheds new light upon the behavior of male baboons. It’s been difficult to trace patterns in their relationships and subsequent impact of those patterns on their well-being because males change groups so often, as compared to females, who tend to stick around in the same place for their entire lifetime, according to researchers.

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Scientists observed 542 male and female adult baboons, and found males, like the females, lived longer if they had established strong social bonds. Scientists don’t know exactly how strong friendships translate to longer life span but have theorized, based on other primates, that the reason lies in social bonds reducing the physiological effects of stress. In the case of baboons, it also means having a friend around for grooming, and getting parasites picked off of them by a pal — an activity researchers found male-female duos indulging in a lot more than male-male friends.

Having female baboons around, researchers note, also has its own separate utility. Environments in which high-ranking male baboons are constantly fighting with other male baboons and trying to mate with high-ranking female baboons can be severely stressful, often harboring constant in-fighting and killing. Male-female friendships can provide a welcome respite from the high-stress environment, in which companionship is merely enough. In this way, male baboons benefit by engaging in a relationship in which they don’t have to fight or flaunt themselves in order to seem powerful or attractive.

These, however, are merely theories. The next step, researchers note, will be to investigate exactly how friendship helps a person (or baboon) live longer, and why those precious social bonds have a deep-seated influence on our physiological make-up.


Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news and politics in New York City, and dabbled in design and entertainment journalism. Back in the homeland, she’s interested in tackling beauty, sports, politics and human rights in her gender-focused writing, while also co-managing The Swaddle Team’s podcast, Respectfully Disagree.


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