Many know of the Mandrills thanks to the character of “Rafiki” in “The Lion King” movie of Disney. The Mandrills are related to the baboons. They differ from them in a number of traits. The first difference is their colorfulness. The faces and bottoms of the Mandrills, mainly the males, are decorated with bright shades of red, blue and yellow. The Mandrills differ from the baboons also in their habitat. Whereas the baboons prefer open savanna areas or mountainous areas, the Mandrills live in the rain forests of Cameroon and Gabon in West Africa. Finally, the biggest difference is in their lifestyle. The baboons live in familial groups lead by a dominant male.
For many years, the assumption was that the Mandrills live in a similar social hierarchy as the baboons. Only recently it was found that the social system of the Mandrills is completely different. They live in large packs that consist of hundreds of specimens, and sometimes more than a thousand. These packs consist of females, their off-springs and adolescent specimens. The adult males do not live in groups on an ongoing basis, but join them only when the females are on heat. The males fight each other over the right to join the female groups and mate with them. The tense competition between the males over the right to mate with the females is the cause for the differences in size and color between the males and females. In order to win as much battles as possible, the strong males developed a large body and huge fangs. The bright colors also serve the male in these conflicts. The common assumption today is that the colors indicate the health of the males and their quality. Brighter colors indicate a stronger and healthier male. The colors are further emphasized by the various facial expressions of the Mandrills. Before the commencement of battle, the males can judge each other’s quality according to body size, fangs size and colors. If the gap between two competitors is significant, the weak one will give up and spare himself unnecessary injuries. The colors also enable the females to examine the males joining the group as potential fathers, in order to choose which males they would want to mate with.
The huge packs of Mandrills move mainly on ground, in the forests, in search for food, despite the fact that they are skilled climbers. While searching for food, the Mandrills dig in the ground. Whoever observes this exhibit can see that this habit persists in captivity as well, and the Mandrills dig in the ground searching for the food we have placed there for them. Today, as their natural habitat is being destroyed, there are more cases of Mandrill packs looting agricultural fields of manioc, cassava, banana plantations and other vegetables.
The growing clash with humans who infiltrate into the forests has resulted in a decrease in Mandrill populations, and they are now extremely vulnerable.
Here in the zoo, there is a breeding group that consists of a dominant adult male, a number of adult females, and young males and females. Our group belongs to a population of Mandrills that is managed in cooperation with the European zoos, in order to increase the numbers of Mandrills in captivity and protect this species from extinction.