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The olive baboon is named for its coat, which, at a distance, is a shade of green-grey. (Its alternate name comes from the Egyptian god Anubis, who was often represented by a dog head resembling the dog-like muzzle of the baboon.) At closer range, its coat is multi-colored, due to rings of yellow-brown and black on the hairs. The hair on the baboon's face, however, is finer and ranges from dark grey to black. This coloration is shared by both sexes, although males have a mane of longer hair that tapers down to ordinary length along the back. Besides the mane, the male olive baboon differs from the female in terms of size and weight; males are, on average, 70 cm tall and weigh 24 kg; females measure 60 cm and 14.7 kg. Like other baboons, the olive baboon has a long, pointed, dog-like muzzle. In fact, along with the muzzle, the animal's tail (38–58 cm) and four-legged gait can make baboons seem very canine. The tail almost looks as if it is broken, as it is held upright over the rump for the first quarter, after which it drops sharply. The bare patch of a baboon's rump, famously seen in cartoons and movies, is a good deal smaller in the olive baboon. The olive baboon, like most cercopithecines, has a cheek pouch with which to store food.
The olive baboon inhabits a strip of 25 equatorial African countries, very nearly ranging from the east to west coast of the continent. The exact boundaries of this strip are not clearly defined, as the species' territory overlaps with that of other baboon species. In many places, this has resulted in cross-breeding between species. For example, there has been considerable hybridization between the olive baboon and the Hamadryas baboon in Ethiopia. Cross-breeding with the yellow baboon and the Guinea baboon has also been observed. Although this has been noted, the hybrids have not yet been heavily studied. Throughout its wide range, the olive baboon can be found in a number of different habitats. It is usually classified as savanna-dwelling, living in the wide plains of the grasslands. The grasslands, especially those near open woodland, do make up a large part of its habitat, but the baboon also inhabits rainforests and deserts. Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for instance, both support olive baboon populations in dense tropical forests.