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  • Writer's pictureMartha Iserman


Theropithecus gelada

AKA: the bleeding-heart monkey or the gelada baboon.

High in the hills of Ethiopia, is a unique primate. It's an ancient ape that covered the African continent at one time. Now it is the only of its Genus Theropithecus. The Gelada.

Pleasure to Meet You

At first glance, you'd think this guy is a killer. Scary teeth, wild hair, crazy eyes. We call that "The Full Steven Tyler". Not to mention a chest that looks like it just walked out in the middle of its own open heart surgery (but we'll get to that later).

In reality this species is unique in that it is the only primate species that are primarily graminivores, with grass making up 90% of their diet. This means they have adapted many features for their terrestrial and grass-eating lifestyle including small sturdy fingers and small incisors for chewing. Not to mention a reinforced butt for sitting for long periods to eat. We could all use one of those after quarantine amiright..... !?! (insert high five here)

Geladas live high on the hills of Ethiopia, mainly in the Simien Mountains National Park, at elevations of 1,800-4,400 m (5,900-14,400 ft) above sea level. They sleep on the ledges of cliffs and ascend onto the plateaus and grasslands atop the gorges during the day to forage. Because of this, they are very adept climbers, which is good, because if they weren't it would be rough going.

Not a bad view

Gelada Habitat in Ethiopia, Africa

On to the gaping chest wound though...

The obvious feature that makes this a DOPE NOPE is the conspicuous, bright red hourglass-shaped patch of skin on their chest. It is more obvious in the males and less pronounced in the females. It's most likely there to display dominance in males and mating availability in females, so basically they use them to indicate their status in the sexual hierarchy. The pokemon cards of the Gelada world.

During estrus (mating time), this changes when the female's red chest then exhibits a variety of fluid-filled blisters and knobs of skin often described as a "necklace". This may be similar to the swollen buttocks that baboons display at this time. I hate to judge, but somehow naming it after jewelry makes it even more disturbing.

Hot stuff

With all this swagger, it's no surprise that geladas have complex social structures and family groupings. Males develop 'harems' of of to a dozen females and fight with other males for dominance of their groupings. They communicate with each other in highly complicated vocalizations that have been compared to human speech rhythms.

Their population was estimated at around 400,000-500,000 in the 1970s but has dropped to 200,000 in 2008, which is going to be a theme on Dope Nopes. It is listed as 'Least Concern' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is threatened by the reduction of their habitat due to agricultural expansion. Farmers near the Simien Mountains National Park do consider them a crop pest due to their preference for barley, but who can resist free barley.

So what do you think of our grass lovin cousin the gelada?

So what do you think? Is it DOPE? Or a NOPE?

Do you agree on the outcome of the Duck Death Match? Comment with your thoughts!!!


  • primate-any mammal of the group that includes lemurs, lorises, tarsiers, monkeys, apes, and humans.

  • estrus-estrus, also spelled Oestrus, the period in the sexual cycle of female mammals, except the higher primates, during which they are in heat—i.e., ready to accept a male and to mate.

  • terrestrial-to live predominantly or entirely on land

  • graminivorous-(of an animal) feeding on grass.

  • diurnal-Diurnality is a form of plant and animal behavior characterized by activity during daytime, with a period of sleeping or other inactivity at night.

  • WATCH: Spend a Day With the World’s Only Grass-Eating Monkeys. (n.d.). Animals.

  • Gelada. (n.d.). African Wildlife Foundation.

  • Gelada baboon. (n.d.). Wisconsin National Primate Research Center.

  • New England Primate Conservancy. (2022, March 21). Gelada | New England Primate Conservancy. New England Primate Conservancy - ​Committed to Leaving a Legacy of Hope ​and Tools to Build a Better Tomorrow for All the Earth’s Citizens.

  • Gelada. (2022, March 19). In Wikipedia.

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