"Contact" calls are widespread in social mammals and birds, but the proximate factors that motivate call production and mediate their contact function remain poorly specified. Field study of chacma baboons (Papio cynocephalus ursinus) revealed that contact barks in adult females were motivated by separation both from the group at large and from their dependent infants. A variety of social and ecological factors affect the probability of separation from either one or both. Results of simultaneous observations and a playback experiment indicate that the contact function of calling between mothers and infants was mediated by occasional maternal retrieval rather than coordinated call exchange. Mothers recognized the contact barks of their own infants and often were strongly motivated to locate them. However, mothers did not produce contact barks in reply unless they themselves were at risk of becoming separated from the group.