Ancient Egyptians venerated the hamadryas or sacred baboons as incarnations of Thoth, the gold of scribes and scholars, and Egyptian ships carried hundreds of live hamadryas from the south to the temples of the Nile. When, in 1960 a group of Swiss zoologiesis headed by Dr. Hans Kummer began to follow bands of hamadryas baboons through their subdesert habitat in eastern Ethiopia, the scholars soon discovered that they could indeed learn a lot from the heavily mantled primates. Hamadryas troops roost at night in the ledges of vertical cliffs. Every morning, after an intricate decision process, the troop begins its daily foraging march, gradually splitting up into bands, clans, and eventually families headed by one large male. This four-level social system has become a paradigm of a complex social structure in primates and is the one most similar to segmental human societies.
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Jean-Jacques Abegglen was born in Zurich in 1945. He began his studies in zoology at the University of Zurich in 1965. Dr. Abegglen wrote a B.A. thesis on desert ants and conducted a field study on hamadryas baboons in Ethiopia to earn his doctorial degree. He and his wife Helga returned to Ethiopia after his degree requirements were completed to work on the original study band of baboons at Cone Rock, which in the interval had been developed into a longitudinal site by other members of the Zurich group. The Abegglens struggled to continue the study in the face of increasing logistic difficulties, the result of political events, until in 1977 they had to abandon the site. Jean-Jacques Abegglen was deeply and critically interested in science, its strengths and its weaknesses. Yet he never considered taking up another research project except the one to which he had devoted years of his life. He died in October 1979.