The Term for a Group of Baboons: It's Not a 'Congress

Baboon family
Ineke Kamps / Getty Images

A popular meme contains a picture with several baboons playing in the snow captioned: "Did you know that a large group of baboons is called a Congress?"

As the meme goes on to explain:

"We are all familiar with a herd of cows, a flock of chickens, a school of fish and a gaggle of geese. However, less widely known is a pride of lions, a murder of crows (as well as their cousins the rooks and ravens), an exaltation of doves and, presumably because they look so wise, a parliament of owls.
"Now consider a group of baboons. They are the loudest, most dangerous, most obnoxious, most viciously aggressive and least intelligent of all primates. And what is the proper collective noun for a group of baboons? Believe it or not ... a Congress! I guess that pretty much explains the things that come out of Washington!"

The meme does explain one thing: The person who posted or sent it does not know what a large group of baboons is called.

A Troop of Baboons

National Geographic says, baboons "form large troops, composed of dozens or even hundreds of baboons, governed by a complex hierarchy that fascinates scientists."

According to the Oxford Dictionaries list of proper terms for groups of things, organized gatherings of kangaroos, monkeys, and baboons are all called “troops,” while the only group called a “congress” is Congress. 

In an email to PolitiFact, Shirley Strum, director of the University of California's Uaso Ngiro Baboon Project in Nairobi, Kenya, agreed that a group of baboons is known as a “troop.”

“I have never heard the term 'congress' used for a group of baboons!" she wrote, adding,

"I would prefer to be governed by baboons than the current Congress! They are more socially committed, abide by the golden rule and are generally nicer people."
Baboons are "socially sophisticated and incredibly smart" and among primates, "no species is as dangerous as humans. Only baboons who have been spoiled by humans feeding them are dangerous and are never as aggressive as humans."

While the meme is inaccurate, decision-making by majority rule is, in fact, fairly in the animal world. “Democratic, shared decision-making processes tend to be really important, and we see them everywhere,” Meg Crofoot, an anthropologist at the University of California, Davis, stated in an interview with The Washington Post. According to Crofoot, many species—including baboons—use majority rule to determine their movements. For example, birds use it to form their flocks, and fish use it when they travel in schools.

In a study published in the journal Science on June 15, 2015, Crofoot details the results of several weeks spent tracking a troop of baboons at the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya. Looking at the data, Crofoot and her colleagues observed that the baboons employed “nuanced negotiations” as they moved about the reserve. When members wanted to move in similar but not quite identical directions, the troop, rather than following one predominant leader, would usually reach a compromise and move in a direction approximately between the two proposed paths.

In situations where members wanted to move in similar but not quite identical directions, the troop would—as our human congress often does—compromise and follow a course roughly between the two proposed paths

The Meme's Point

The point the meme is trying to make is that the U.S. Congress has pretty much degenerated into a largely ineffectual collection of lifetime professional politicians, typically trusted by only 10% of the American people, that spends more time arguing, running for re-election and on vacation than it does tending to its real job of carrying out the legislative process in a way that helps Americans happily pursue life and liberty. 

In 1970, for example, the troop called Congress passed its very own Legislative Reorganization Act, which among other things “required” both the House of Representatives and the Senate to take the entire month of August off every year unless a “state of war” or “emergency” exists at the time.

The last time Congress decided to take a break from its break was in the summer of 2005 when lawmakers returned to Washington just long enough to pass legislation authorizing aid for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

But the fact remains that a gathering of baboons is not a "congress."

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Longley, Robert. "The Term for a Group of Baboons: It's Not a 'Congress." ThoughtCo, Aug. 2, 2021, thoughtco.com/group-of-baboons-not-a-congress-3968493. Longley, Robert. (2021, August 2). The Term for a Group of Baboons: It's Not a 'Congress. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/group-of-baboons-not-a-congress-3968493 Longley, Robert. "The Term for a Group of Baboons: It's Not a 'Congress." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/group-of-baboons-not-a-congress-3968493 (accessed September 17, 2021).