Written by
Guy Cowlishaw headshot

Dr Guy Cowlishaw

Senior Research Fellow

6 November 2023

For over 20 years, our scientists, with collaborators, have been studying wild chacma baboons that live on the edge of the Namib Desert in central Namibia. 

These baboons are now being shared with the wider world in the new BBC landmark series Planet Earth III, narrated by Sir David Attenborough.

The Tsaobis Baboon Project brings together scientists from our Institute of Zoology, University College London, and the Institute of Evolutionary Science in Montpellier to explore all aspects of these fascinating and highly social animals: from their behaviour, life history and ecology to their genetics and health. Through this work, the scientists seek to better understand the complex lives of baboons, how they cope in challenging environments, and what lessons we can learn for the wider conservation of social species.

The Tsaobis Baboon Project

The Tsaobis Baboon Project focusses on two social groups which currently number over 100 individuals. All of these individuals are known to the research team, and most of the baboons have been studied since birth, along with their parents and siblings. This provides a unique opportunity to learn about family dynamics and social networks. Having grown-up with us, the baboons are well habituated to observers and allow our scientists to walk amongst them without causing disturbance. 

baboon looking out to the sunset
© Rémi Emeriau

Both baboon groups, or ‘troops’, range widely across the desert hills and plains of Tsaobis, but in the dry winter season the baboons forage primarily in the woodlands that grow along the banks of the ephemeral Swakop River that cuts across the study site. Baboons have few predators, but leopards do occur locally and have successfully taken Tsaobis baboons in the past.

To date, the Tsaobis Baboon Project has published over 75 research papers on the baboons, as well as conducting several studies on the ecology and conservation of the wider desert environment. The Tsaobis Baboon Project also runs an internship programme for Namibian ecologists and conservation scientists.

Filming baboons for BBC's Planet Earth III

In 2021, the Tsaobis Baboon Project team hosted a BBC film crew to film the baboons for Planet Earth III. The extraordinary lives of the Tsaobis baboons is now shared with a global audience for the first time, in Episode 3 of Planet Earth III, Deserts and Grasslands.

Watch now on BBC iPlayer