The Gelada (Theropithecus gelada), sometimes called the gelada baboon and bleeding-heart baboon, is a species of Old World monkey now confined to the Ethiopian Highlands. In have spend numerous hours on different visits observing Geladas in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountain National Park in order to get a better understanding of their complex multilevel society.
Fascinated by all social behaviour in Gelada’s it’s the grooming between members of the ‘troop’ that really gets me excited. There are two types of grooming in geladas: auto - grooming (self grooming) and allo - grooming (social grooming). Grooming is not only important for hygienic reasons but also important for strengthening social bonds.
Numerous studies suggest that the major reason for grooming is the satisfaction of physical contact between the groomer and the individual being groomed. The male maintains his relationship with the females by grooming them rather than forcing his dominance.
On my last visit to the Ethiopia highlands I made my principal photographic focus to capture the ‘perfect’ grooming image. Showing just how important this behaviour is for the social bond in Gelada’s. It was the last morning of my latest visit to the Simien Mountains and I left the comfort of my warm bed and headed out before sunrise to an area, which, from previous knowledge I knew was a hot spot for sunrise Gelada activity.
As the morning warmed up the Gelada’s moved higher and higher up a small rocky outcrop to capture the morning sun. I realized the best way to portray my subjects in all their glory would be to use a fish- eye lens, thus not only showing my subject but also their fragile habitat which is under serious threat from farming and competition for grazing of livestock. I spotted a male and female exposed from the rest of the group sitting in a small open area with the embankment below them washed away. This was the perfect opportunity for me to get below my subjects.
- Marius Coetzee
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