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Gelada (Theropithecus gelada) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Taxonomic History and Nomenclature

Common names

  • Gelada or gelada baboon (Bergman and Beehner 2013; Grubb 2006)
  • Tschelada (Crook 1966; von Heuglin 1877)
    • Name used by the Amhara inhabitants of Begemdir, where the animal was first encountered by German explorer Rüppell in 1835 (Crook 1966)
  • Sphinx monkey, speculative (from Jolly and Ucko 1969)
    • Speculation based on historical references
    • Early Greek and later Roman references
      • Describe the 'sphinges' or 'sphingion' monkey in the region known as Aethiopia
      • Descriptions of an animal imported to Alexandria, Egypt
    • Early 17th century description of gelada by English naturalist Edward Topsel
      • Report fitting the description of a gelada included under the heading 'Sphinga or Sphinx'

Scientific name

  • Etymology
    • Genus Theropithecus from two Greek words; thēr meaning "a wild animal" and pithēkos meaning "an ape" (Gotch 1995)
    • Specific epithet gelada possibly from the Amharan name for the animal (see above common name, tschelada)
  • Synonyms
    • Macacus gelada (Rüppell 1835)
  • Subspecific designations debated (Bergman and Beehner 2013)
    • 2, possibly 3, subspecies

Evolutionary History

Primate origins

  • Order Primates
    • Likely at Cretaceous-Paleogene (formerly Cretaceous-Tertiary) boundary (c.66 million years ago (Ma))
      • c. 66 million years ago (Ma) (Shotake 1981; Wildman et al. 2004; Winnery et al. 2004; Zinner et al. 2013)
      • Up to 80-90 Ma (Martin 2000; Eizirik et al. 2004; Bininda-Edmonds et al. 2007)
  • Superfamily Cercopithecoidea (Old World monkeys)
    • Diverged in the early Miocene, c. 32 Ma (Finstermeier et al. 2013)

Subfamily Cercopithecinae (from Szalay and Delson 1979 unless otherwise noted)

  • Cheek-pouched monkeys
    • Elastic buccal sacs, enable storage of rapidly gathered food items for later processing (Kingdon and Groves 2013)
    • Includes baboons, macaques, mangabeys, mandrills, gelada, talapoins, green monkeys, and guenons)
  • Divided into two tribes
    • Papionini and Cercopithecini
    • Tribe Papioini diversified c. mid-Miocene (Finstermeier et. al 2013)

Genus Theropithecus (from Jolly 2013 unless otherwise noted)

  • Monotypic (contains a single living species)
    • Extinct species
      • Fossils dated to c. 125,000 - 4 Ma
      • 5 described (Delson et al. 1993)
        • T. darti, T. oswaldi, T. baringensis, T. quadratirostris, and T. brumpti (Delson et al. 1993)
        • Debate on taxonomic standing of some; at least 2 distinct forms
      • Previously distributed throughout Africa and portions of India, the Mid-East, and southern Europe (Delson et al. 1993; Jolly 2013; Rook et al. 2004) (see Historical Distribution under Distribution & Habitat)
  • Date of emergence
    • Emerged 3.5-4.5 Ma (Jolly 2013; Perleman et al. 2011; Roos et al. 2011)
  • Close relatives
    • Closely allied with the true baboons (genus Papio), mangabeys (of the genera Lophocebus and Cercocebus) and mandrills (genus Mandrillus) (Page et al. 1999; Perleman et al. 2011)
      • Molecular and morphological studies suggest a recent common ancestor
    • Hybridize with anubis (P. anubis) and hamadryas (P. hamadryas) baboons, in managed care and in the wild (Dunbar and Dunbar 1974c; Jolly et al. 1997)

Cultural History

Oromo culture

  • Ceremonial uses
    • Male's cape used to create ceremonial costumes (Gippoliti and Hunter 2008)

Popular culture resources

  • Magazine articles
    • National Geographic
      • "The Grass-eating Monkeys of Ethiopia" by Craig Welch (April 2017, p.72-95)
  • Documentaries
    • World's Deadliest - 2010 National Geographic production; contains a segment ("Gelada vs. gelada") on geladas, from the episode "Animal Battles"
      • Depicts a battle between an alpha male and a band of bachelors


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Infraclass: Eutheria

Order: Primates

Family: Cercopithecidae

Subfamily: Cercopithecinae

Genus: Theropithecus

Species: Theropithecus gelada (Rüppell, 1835) - gelada

Subspecies: T. g. gelada - northern gelada
Subspecies: T. g. obscurus - southern gelada

Classification according to ITIS 2014

Early Rendering

a painting of a Geleda

Male gelada, image published in Rüppell's Neue Wirbelthiere zu der Fauna von Abyssinien Gohorig (1835).

Image credit: Image within the public domain in the European Union and U.S. Posted by the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Page Citations

Bergman and Beehner (2013)
Bininda-Edmonds et al. (2007)
Crook (1966)
Delson et al. (1993)
Dunbar and Dunbar (1974c)
Eizirik et al. (2004)
ITIS (2014)
Finstermeier et al. (2013)
Gippoliti and Hunter (2008)
Gotch (1995)
Grubb (2006)
Jolly (2013)
Jolly and Ucko (1969)
Jolly et al. (1997)
Kingdon and Groves (2013)
Martin (2000)
Page et al. (1999)
Perleman et al. (2011)
Rook et al. (2004)
Roos et al. (2011)
Rüppell (1835)
Shotake (1981)
Szalay and Delson (1979)
von Heuglin (1877)
Wildman et al. (2004)
Winnery et al. (2004)
Zinner et al. (2013)

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