Life at the top for male baboons means more stress

A baboon yawns in its enclosure at Berlin's Zoo.

Those wielding power and influence are more likely to lead a “stressful” life, according to new research on wild baboons.

Researchers at Princeton University discovered that alpha males among the wild yellow baboons of Kenya’s Amboseli Basin have higher levels of glucocorticoid, a stress hormone, as well as testosterone.

“We found that alpha male baboons exhibit much higher stress hormone levels than beta (second-ranking) males, indicating that being at the very top of a social hierarchy may be more costly than previously thought,” lead author Laurence Gesquiere told Metro.

The study is based on the examination of fecal samples from 125 adult baboons over a nine-year period. “Life at the top: rank and stress in wild male baboons” is to be published in a forthcoming issue of academic journal Science.

The baboons’ high stress levels are most likely due to the energy they exert to maintain their social position, Gesquiere added, with alpha males being more prone to fighting and protecting their mate, as opposed to beta males.

“Where high status comes with both high costs and high benefits and associated physiological stress in human or nonhuman societies, the consequences may either be a shortening of tenure in such positions or a cumulative ‘wear and tear’ that compromises long-term health and survival,” said Gesquiere.


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