Towards the end of 2015 I observed some interesting behaviour from the baboons. They had been given broom heads as an enrichment and it was fascinating to watch what they were doing with them. I managed to take a series of photographs of one baboon in particular. Her name was Georgia, she was one of the senior females in the group. I watched as she carefully pulled out a bristle from the broom and proceeded to floss her teeth with it.

I showed the photos to our Volunteers’ Coordinator who passed them on to the Press Officer. For a brief while one of my photos hit the internet and went ‘viral’, even ending up being used by an American dentist to promote good dental hygiene. In fact, if you Google ‘baboon flossing’ my photo still pops up and it is even featured in a news report from America!

I thought that I would hear no more about it, but recently I became aware that a student working on her MSc research project with the Zoo’s Field Conservation and Research Department had used my photo as the starting point of a project to investigate this interesting behaviour. Although flossing had been observed in some other primates, it was not a known behaviour of baboons.

Unfortunately, Georgia had since died so the student had to look for flossing in other baboons. Then she saw Daniel, the big male, using his own hair to floss his teeth. He was observed (and filmed) pulling out a strand of his long hair, wrapping it around his fingers and deliberately using it to floss his teeth. This was also observed later in another male. Then a female called Jago was observed trying to use broom bristles to floss.

At this stage, the results were interesting but not conclusive; another student will be picking up where the first one left off, starting later this year. On your travels around the Zoo, keep your eye on Baboon Rock to see if you can spot any of this sort of behaviour. If you do, please make a note of it and let someone know, as it could be of value to the ongoing project. Georgia really started something!

Liz Chisholm, Paignton Zoo volunteer

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