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Baboons filmed flossing teeth at British zoo

Baboons have been filmed apparently flossing their teeth with broom bristles and hairs from others in their group at a British zoo.

An adult baboon and a youngster were observed showing the remarkably human behaviour at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park in Devon by Charlotte Morgan, an animal behaviour student at the University of Exeter.

Baboon flossing teeth
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The baboon used a broom bristle to floss

Miss Morgan said: “Past research at the zoo found that certain baboons floss using their own hair and bristles from broom heads.

“I have observed cases where baboons will pluck hair off other baboons to floss, which is pretty exciting,” she added.

A young baboon is seen flossing its teeth. Pic: Charlotte Morgan
Image:
A young baboon is seen flossing its teeth. Pic: Charlotte Morgan

The primates were first spotted flossing at the zoo a few years ago, when a female hamadryas baboon was seen using a bristle from an old broom to floss.

Previous studies have suggested that primates floss their teeth for hygienic and social purposes.

Miss Morgan, who is researching whether personality is related to dental flossing activity in the troop, says “there does appear to be a relationship between certain personality traits and dental flossing”.

“From what I have observed, they start off by grooming themselves and then they pluck off their own hair and place it between their teeth,” she added.

“With the broom heads they usually play around with them and then pluck the bristles off to floss,” she said.

Baboon flossing teeth
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The animals may learn to floss from other baboons

Miss Morgan said it was difficult to suggest exactly how the baboons had learnt how to floss but there may be a “social learning element”.

“We have found that animals from certain harems [groups of female baboons with a male] floss more than others, so potentially animals are learning from their social cohorts,” she said.

Macaques in Thailand are known to use strands of human hair to floss their teeth.

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