Could people domesticate baboons or mandrills, specifically for usage as pack of draft animals? I am aware that they are not quite that big, but could we selectively breed them to such size and capability across millennia as we have done with wolves or such? I believe that the potential is there, as other monkey species such as rhesus macaques have shown tolerance of humans and human surroundings (though they are typically regarded as pests in such areas). Could it be possible or are baboons and/or mandrills too aggressive to be domesticated?

EDIT: I feel I should clarify the circumstances in which they would be domesticated. The society that is in place at the time domestication would occur would be pastoral nomads, herding grazing animals across desert and dry steppe. As they settled river beds, I am unsure if they would keep the primates, as their previous purpose as pack animals/herd guards would be diminished. That is, if they are domesticated in the first place.

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    $\begingroup$ No animal is definitely "oo aggressive to be domesticated" until somebody tries. (For example, the Soviets have tried to domesticate foxes, with success; tried to domesticate elks (that's "moose" in American, Alces alces) with decidedly mixed results.) Go ahead and try; you may succeed, and be rewarded with fame and glory; or you may fail, and something will be learned. In any case, the book describing the attempt at domestication, and its success or failure, will be most interesting. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 19, 2020 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ This answer of mine to a similar question fundamentally answers your question. The answer is yes, if the time span is practical. All you need to know is the gestation time and lifespan of the animals to be domesticated. (IMO this is a duplicate of that question, but I'll let others judge.) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 19, 2020 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ This is an interesting analysis of what is needed in a domesticated animal livescience.com/33870-domesticated-animals-criteria.html and this is an example of primate domestication with moral examinations psmag.com/environment/… I thought there were efforts to breed apes to replace slaves, but I can't seem to find a reference. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Jul 19, 2020 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus "but I can't seem to find a reference" that would be because you dreamed it & it never happened, you're almost certainly confusing old memories of planet of the apes back stories with reality ;) $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 8, 2020 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ @ Pelinore The story I remember seeing referenced failed attempts to train apes as laborers during the victorian era, but documentation for failed efforts aren't always easy to find. I'll try the history stack exchange and see if anyone knows. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Aug 9, 2020 at 22:43

2 Answers 2


Aggression isn't the problem and it doesn't take millennia

The classic case is that of the Silver foxes, bred for friendliness over 60+ years. There is lots of information on the web including video footage. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmitry_Belyayev_(zoologist)


The problem is the animals' anatomy. They don't walk upright and they aren't as fully adapted to quadrupedal walking as animals with hooves.

There would be a lot of strain on their backs and on their feet/hands - especially the wrists. Perhaps they could carry most of the load on their hind-legs.

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You would probably have to use males because the females are much smaller.

The mandrill is one of the most sexually dimorphic mammals due to extremely strong sexual selection which favors males in both size and coloration. Males typically weigh 19–37 kg (42–82 lb), with an average mass of 32.3 kg (71 lb). Females weigh roughly half as much as the male, at 10–15 kg (22–33 lb) and an average of 12.4 kg (27 lb).[9] Exceptionally large males can weigh up to 54 kg (119 lb), with unconfirmed reports of outsized mandrills weighing 60 kg (130 lb) per the Guinness Book of World Records.The mandrill is the heaviest living monkey https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandrill

Selective breeding

Given millennia it's certain you could selectively breed for size, strength and endurance. You could do it in centuries.

The origin of the Shire Horse dates back to a cold blooded heavy horse, first mentioned in around 1066 brought into England after the Norman Conquest. From this developed the “English Great Horse” of the Middle Ages often spoken of by Medieval writers.

In Medieval times it was essential to increase the size and number of horses called “The Great Horse” in order to carry knights in full armour https://shirehorsesociety.com.au/history-of-the-shire-horse/#:~:text=The%20History%20of%20the%20Shire%20Horse.%20The%20Shire,wars%20pulling%20the%20heavy%20artillery%20in%20appalling%20conditions.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you! This is quite helpful! $\endgroup$ Jul 19, 2020 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ Another big problem is intelligence, intelligent animals are much harder to domesticate especially ones with complex social structures like primates, baboons are smart enough to lie (purposeful deception exploiting a theory of mind) they are smart enough to make controlling them extremely difficult, becasue they will keep trying new ways to get what they want. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jul 20, 2020 at 4:49
  • $\begingroup$ I’m guessing they mean cold blooded as in heartless but damn I had a mini heart attack at the idea of cold blooded horses existing and that my entire understanding of mammals was wrong. $\endgroup$
    – Alex
    Jul 21, 2020 at 1:23

You need a good reason why someone would even try in the first place

There really isn't much of a reason for someone to try and domesticate a baboon. People usually try to domesticate an animal when it is able to perform some job or service that humans can't or at the very least can survive on resources which are normally inaccessible to humans. Every domesticated animal we have does something for us that we cannot do on our own. Dogs can smell better than we can and are good hunting partners. Horses can haul much heavier loads and eat grass. Cattle and sheep turn inedible grass into milk, leather, meat, and wool. Even pigs eat our refuse and eat things that we can't.

By contrast, baboons and mandrills do nothing for us. They're primates, like us, so they eat similar things, have the same senses, are a bit smaller (poor pack animals), and can do similar things. Domesticating them is doing nothing but producing more mouths to feed for little benefits. There's really no reason to domesticate them, and even if you did out of sheer curiosity there's little incentive to keep them around in a pre-industrial civilization. It's like the same reasons why humans never really tried domesticating bears, we compete for just about everything. The one exception might be the gelada baboon, which does eat grass, but they're really inefficient at it and you're better off just getting a goat.

  • $\begingroup$ There really wasn't much of a reason for someone to try & domesticate a wolf, but it happened anyway, a suitably trained baboon could fulfil pretty much any task a dog does plus a few a dog couldn't having no hands, all we need is plausible circumstance chance & opportunity for a story in which it occurs, dogs also eat food we do yet we domesticated them anyway, selective breeding for size removes your other objections & presumably they would start out as used for what dogs were & migrate to pack animals later. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 8, 2020 at 23:15
  • $\begingroup$ "chance & opportunity" Pop in a particularly virulent form of Canine distemper early b4 the period when wolves became domesticated wiping them out in Europe & Africa so a species of Baboons can move into the niche they occupied @ that time & presto, you get dogs in the Americas & by the same happenstance that led to the domestication of dogs you end up with domesticated baboons replacing them elsewhere. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 8, 2020 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Pelinore Dogs/wolves do a lot of things we can't. They run faster than us and can be used to chase prey in ways that humans can't. They have a better sense of smell and hearing than us and can be used to track prey or as guard animals. They can also eat lots of meat waste products that we don't like. Baboons do none of these things. They don't have the endurance to be good hunting companions, their sense of smell and hearing isn't much better than us, and we eat about the same things. Lots of reasons to want a domesticated wolf around, not a lot of reasons for a baboon. $\endgroup$ Aug 8, 2020 at 23:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Pelinore Baboons are better sprinters than humans (then again, everything other than a tortoise is) but they lack the endurance that humans and wolves have that make them good hunting partners. Wolves can run for miles without stopping. Baboons can’t. And baboon senses of smell and hearing are not that good compared to humans. Like all monkeys, they lack a rhinarium and many of their olfactory genes are non-functional. You are better off domesticating literally any other non-primate terrestrial mammal for their sense of smell. Honestly I'd domesticate hyenas/jackals before baboons $\endgroup$ Aug 9, 2020 at 2:11
  • $\begingroup$ They're not (or don't need to be) in competition with wolves any more than Llamas & alpacas were in competition with sheep (see "chance & opportunity"), you've taken a position (a wrong one) & are just sticking to it regardless, you're not making any sense so I guess this conversation is over. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 9, 2020 at 2:16

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