Leptin has emerged as the major lipostat, regulating adiposity by affecting feeding behavior and thermogenesis. Leptin levels in normal-weight Western humans and in captive rodents are 5-15 ng/ml. But evidence suggests that these levels are abnormally high and that leptin may have evolved as a more general metabolic signal, with its most robust effects at lower levels. If this is true, then wild, healthy animal populations should have lower levels of leptin than captive populations and Western Man. We examined leptin levels in wild, East African populations of baboons (Papio anubis, P. hamadryas, and anubis/hamadryas hybrids). Serum leptin levels averaged less than 1 ng/ml, and no differences occurred in leptin levels among the species. In wild baboons, serum leptin levels were highest in the youngest baboons, with a trend toward an inverse relation between dental age and serum leptin levels. In comparison, captive baboons had levels about three times higher than wild baboons, with a clear inverse relation between age and leptin levels. These results support the view that leptin evolved to be effective at low levels.