Posts from the ‘Chimps’ category

Chimp in the Budongo Forest Reserve, Uganda.

Grooming the Man and Other Stories

The complex social relationships and bonds among chimps have been written about by many authors. Seeing their interactions in person creates a stronger impression than any words could describe. While tracking these chimps in the Budongo Forest, there were several scenes that we came upon that stand out in my mind:

  • Nick, the current alpha male, lounging on the path while Musa and Howard groom him. He is lying on his back, his legs splayed outward as Musa picks parasites off of him in what appears to be very intimate gestures. Our field guide tells us that Nick is on his way out of power as alpha male but that the other two want to remain friends. They groom him as a way to assure a smooth transition.
  • The mother Bahadi feeds with her infant in a fig tree. He moves away from her for some time and then climbs back into her lap. In one moment she wiggles her foot, sticking it out with a playful gesture for him to hold onto.
  • The guide explains how a new alpha male takes power: He must convince the top-ranking females that he will be a good leader. He does this by bringing them to the good food sources and protecting their babies. If the high-ranking females support them, then all of their offspring will, too.
  • Squibbs pulls a parasite off of Nick after grooming him. He plucks a leaf from a local tree and puts the parasite on it to examine it. The field guide tells us this is an inspection leaf and that they do this all the time to inspect the bugs and such that they pull off one another.
  • Zed grabs a leaf and puts it inside a hole in a tree that has rain water in it. He drinks from the leaf.
  • The veterinary Wyclef tells the story of the baby chimp who is in a jar on the shelf of the laboratory. It was killed by Musa, one of the more powerful males in the Sonso Community. He watched what happened that day in the forest when he heard screaming. Another male was holding a new baby chimp, and trying to protect it from Musa. It was unclear who the mother of the chimp was. Musa grabbed the baby and threw it against the tree, killing it instantly. The guess is that it was not Musa’s offspring and that perhaps it was from another community. Chimps will often kill offspring that are not fathered by one of their own.
  • A crowd of nearly 15 chimps gathers together in a fig tree above where we are all sitting. They ascend the tree swinging from branch to branch, making grunting noises as they eat. They drop fruit, leaves, branches and defecate on us. They pause to itch their backs and peer out over the trees for many moments. One of our volunteers wonders out loud what they are thinking about. Our field guide tells us that they are just relaxing after a long day. That they like to look over the countryside.
In the Budongo Forest.

The Ugandan Tree Phrenology Project

One of our roles on this Earthwatch expedition is to help with the Phrenology project, where they are studying how trees are budding, blooming and fruiting. The long term goal is to understand what is happening in the Budongo Rain Forest and to understand what is causing the changes, such as dwindling pollinators or climate change.

On our hike, a local field guide, Nelson, Pat (another volunteer from Earthwatch) and I went to designated transects and trees to collect specific data.

Using binoculars we surveyed the tree tops, which measured up to 70 stories tall, to determine what each tree was producing, if anything at all.

Although the seven-hour hike was a challenge of trekking over loose roots and massive tree trunks, the visual and aural gallery of birds, insects, flowers, foliage, songs and sounds provided a stunning backdrop nothing like anything I witnessed before, even on our most stunning days in Point Reyes, CA.

Although I didn’t envy their task of collecting data on 1 ,400 trees a month, I could imagine how rewarding it would be to work on an important project like this. I could also imagine getting addicted to the lure of the wildlife and majesty of this unique place.

Destination: Tracking Chimps in Uganda

Chimp in the Budongo Forest Reserve, Uganda.

Chimp in the Budongo Forest Reserve, Uganda.

Tomorrow I leave for the Budongo Forest Reserve, where 700 chimps live, one of the largest populations of chimps in Uganda. I am volunteering with an expedition organized by, called Tracking Chimps Through the Trees of Uganda.

During this volunteer research expedition, I will be investigating human, chimpanzee and monkey interactions while looking at strategies for sharing shrinking food resources between primates and local farmers.

I join scientists who have been monitoring the timing of natural events like the flowering, fruiting and leaf shedding of trees in this forest. They have been monitoring the forest for 20 years and have noticed how the trees are producing 15 percent less fruit. As an ecosystem, this effects both the behavior of the chimps who live in the forest and the subsistence farmers who live at the edge of the forest.

Impacts of Climate Change
I will be involved in monitoring the impacts of these changes and help to determine how climate change and the number of pollinating insects may have caused the decrease.  We’ll also observe changes in chimps behavior and the increased interactions between chimps and humans, where chimps are invading people’s farms. In the end, the goal is to understand these relationships to create better forest management.

I will be in the field for two weeks as a citizen scientist collecting and recording data about chimps, trees and local farmers. I plan to post images and updates to this Blog, which will update to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. So stay tuned.