Hi! Welcome to our site! We decided to call this blog "Yum Chapatis," because we look forward to eating lots of yummy, doughy, chapatis this year :) For now, here's a yummy recipe: click here. Throughout the year we'll try to post photos and updates to yumchapatis.com. Send some love our way!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas with the Hippos

December 25, 2009

Christmas is a BIG deal in Uganda, and camp has been very quiet because most of the Ugandan researchers and field assistants have gone home to their villages to spend Christmas with their families. With so few people in camp, a few other researchers and I decided to spend Christmas at Queen Elizabeth National Park in South Western Uganda. We had a great buffet-style lunch (there was even salad and chocolate mousse!). Then a few of us went on a boat safari. It was an excellent Ugandan Christmas. We saw tons of hippos, birds, African buffalo, crocodiles, a few elephants, and even a hyena (…no lions though)! The song “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas” was playing on repeat in my head – it was a childhood favorite :) Below are some photos from the boat trip. I only remember names for some of the birds – so I’ll leave it up to my birder friends to chime in with bird IDs :) Merry Christmas!


African Fish Eagle:

Pied Kingfisher:

African Buffalo:

Don't know what the little guys are (help me out here), but the tall colorful bird is a saddle-billed stork:

Saddle-billed stork, yellow-billed stork, and the same little guys:

Maribou Stork - these birds are all over Uganda:


Holiday Lunch at the Field Station

December 20, 2009

Today Emily, the Ugandan chimpanzee project manager, hosted a pre-Christmas lunch for all the researchers and field assistants associated with the Kibale Chimpanzee Project. There were about 15-20 people; it was a lot of fun. Lunch was scheduled for 2PM, but in pure Ugandan style, was not served until 5PM. So, we all sat around the table and talked (half of which was in Rotooro – i.e., I couldn’t understand it!), but some people were very kind and talked a lot in English as well. For lunch, we had lots of traditional Ugandan foods, including: dodo (dark spinachy greens), calo (millet), g-nut sauce (a delicious peanut sauce), matoke (boiled plantains), chapattis, cabbage, rice, and beans. There was also meat (chicken? goat?) for the meat-eaters. Late-comers arrived around 6PM (for a lunch scheduled at 2!), which called for a second round of “lunch” that came at about 8PM. All in all, I was there for about 8 hours, and had the opportunity to meet a lot of new Ugandan people, several of which were hilarious :) Below is a photo of the delicious food:

More on Forest Elephants

December 15, 2009

There have been a lot of elephants in the forest lately. Typically, the other researchers and I will set off into the forest at 5:45AM to un-nest the chimps at 6:30AM. Lately however, we have been waiting until sunrise (~6:15AM) before entering the forest in an effort to avoid forest elephants. There are signs of elephants everywhere: broken trees, huge piles of dung (which the dung beetles clearly have a feast over!), and enormous elephant foot prints and slide marks (like the ones below).

The Ugandan field assistants (FAs) all have their own “elephant encounter” stories. They say the elephants charge at “terrific speeds” and are like “a very fast car coming straight for you!” The FAs told me – if an elephant charges you, you should turn quickly at a right angle – even if there is no path and only thick vegetation. Apparently, elephants cannot see well and rely mostly on their sense of smell. Thus – if you turn off the trail, the elephant will likely not realize you have turned until after he/she has already run past you. The other tip the FAs have passed on to me, is to drop your back pack (yes – even though it contains binoculars, GPS, field computer!) – as your backpack will carry your scent and may distract the elephant while you run in the other direction. One of the FAs told me that one time when he was charged by an elephant – he dropped his pack and watched from afar while the elephant rummaged through his pack and scattered all of its contents (some of which he had to later climb trees to retrieve!).

So, after all of the elephant stories and warnings I’ve heard – today I finally saw a forest elephant! Luckily – it was not quite as dramatic of an encounter as I had expected. I was with another researcher (Alex) and an FA (Wilbur) at mid-day when the FA noticed trees shaking in typical elephant fashion. Wilbur whispered to me and Alex that we should come quickly to catch a glimpse of the elephant. Alex and I hurried over and we could see a big, tall elephant bum amongst the trees. The elephant, aware we were near, started to turn around, at which point Wilbur told us to run. So, while Wilbur and I ran in the other direction, Alex stuck around and took this phenomenal photo (below photo by Alexander Georgiev). Luckily, the elephant didn’t charge and simply ran off the trail away from us. Whew!

Sunday with the Chimpanzees

December 12, 2009

Sunday tends to be a quiet day in the forest, as many of the Ugandan field assistants attend church mass. So, today – Sunday – I went to the forest alone to just sit and watch the chimpanzees on my own. No data collection, no stress – just observing and photographing. It was great. There’s a huge fig tree (Ficus capensis) fruiting right now – so it was easy to find a group of chimpanzees. There were 4 chimpanzees already in the tree when I arrived, and during the few hours I was there 8 more chimpanzees turned up. It was a wonderful morning. Below are some of the photos I took:

Also - Richard says he wants to see more bird photos. So here is a photo of a Black and White Casqued Hornbill that I took today:


December 5, 2009

A few mornings ago while following a group of chimpanzees, I was shocked to learn that little Obama, a 2 year-old chimpanzee, died during the night. We spotted Rosa, Obama’s mother, around 8AM. Rosa was still carrying her dead son who was hanging lifelessly in her arms. There’s currently a respiratory infection going around the chimpanzee community – as several of the chimps are coughing and sneezing. Obama had been coughing for several months – and he likely died as a result of his illness. Interestingly, Obama’s mother never immigrated out of her natal group (female chimpanzees usually leave their birth group when they start mating to avoid inbreeding). Thus, many of the researchers here suspect that Obama may have had a compromised immune system due to inbreeding. Sadly, Rosa has had three babies – and all whom have died young.

Rosa carried Obama’s body around for two full days and nights after his death. She appeared reluctant to let go of him. By the end of the first day, Obama became too heavy for Rosa to carry (as babies would normally hold on and support themselves somewhat), so Rosa began to drag his body. It was all very sad to watch. On the third morning after Obama’s death, two veterinarians darted Rosa to retrieve Obama’s body for a post-mortem exam. It’s hard to imagine what Rosa must have thought when she woke up and saw that her baby was gone. Below are photos and a short video that I took of Rosa dragging Obama on the day after his death:

December 30, 2009 – Update on Rosa

Rosa has already started swelling around her genitals. This means that she will soon start mating and be able to conceive another child. While no real mating has occurred yet – several males started mounting Rosa just days after Obama’s death!

The Psion is IN!

December 8, 2009
This year, I’m using a Psion – a small(ish) handheld computer – to collect chimpanzee behavior data. It was a huge hassle to get this thing! It was back-ordered and ended up arriving after I left for Uganda. Sigh. Another researcher graciously brought it to me when he arrived in Uganda – and I am now using the Psion for data collection! It can be a bit bulky and awkward to run with – but all in all – I love it! It’s wonderful to come home at night and upload my data files, as opposed to copying data from hand-written notes. Here’s to hoping it keeps on working! I heard that another researcher who had a Psion in camp previously accidentally dropped it in the long-drop toilet…eek! Luckily it was in a zip-lock and could be retrieved…somehow. I’m extra careful after hearing that story. No Psions in the long-drop toilet!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ugandan Thanksgiving

Yesterday was Thanksgiving – and we (myself and the 3 other volunteers/researchers) celebrated in Ugandan fashion. We got together with a group of 3 Ugandan friends and ate a big meal of chapattis, samosas, boiled sweet potatoes, pumpkin soup, rice, dodo (green bitter spinachy veggies), and corn. We also had…chocolate cake!!! After dinner, we sat out on the porch and watched “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” on a laptop, while rain poured down and red-tailed monkeys jumped from tree to tree in the background. Happy Thanksgiving :)

Grasshoppers are...delicious!

I recently learned that November is “grasshopper month” – where grasshoppers are sold fresh at market in plastic bags. The grasshoppers – a delicacy – are brought home where they are briefly boiled. Then the legs and wings are removed before the grasshoppers are fried, sometimes with onion. Grasshoppers are very fatty and can be fried without oil; they provide enough natural oil to grease the pan. The other night, my Ugandan friends Patrick and Dennis invited me over for dinner; the main dish – grasshoppers. Yes – I am a vegetarian, but I love trying new foods…and I am happy to report that the grasshoppers were…surprisingly delicious! I can’t think of how to describe the taste – perhaps like fried corn (but not popcorn). It was a little odd to see a bowl full of fried grasshoppers, but all in all, it was a yummy experience :)

(photo from Google Image)

Elephants and Earthquakes

During the month I have been in Kibale Forest – I have experienced probably 15-20 earthquakes…yes, earthquakes! They’re quite small, but my house shakes when they occur. I have been told that the earthquakes are a result of being located along the Albertine Rift Valley. When I first arrived at Kibale, I heard many warnings about the forest elephants in the park: the elephants are very feared because they steal crops and can trample people. Villagers in the nearby villages will post people on patrol throughout the night to bang drums, shoot bullets into the air, and yell at the top of their lungs – all to keep the elephants away from their fields. The field assistants will often abandon the chimps when they hear or see elephants – because they fear being trampled. So – the first time I felt my house shaking, I thought it was elephants moving about. The field assistants laughed when I told them this. Apparently, elephants moving nearby wouldn’t make my house shake. Now I know.

Kanyawara Chimpanzees

Hi! I know - it's been a LONG time since I've posted. BUT - I've been keeping busy in the forest, and I FINALLY have photos of the chimpanzees! The group I'm studying at Kibale is referred to as the Kanyawara Chimpanzee Community. It's a group of 49 individuals (~26 adults, 15 juveniles, and 8 infants) who are spread out over a large range of semi-deciduous forest (~30 square kilometers). In the month that I've spent in Kibale Forest, I've seen 28 of the 49 chimpanzees. I'm slowly learning their names and faces. A few of the chimps however, hang out on the periphery of the home range and are rarely observed. I hear that I will be lucky to see a couple of them once in the year that I am here!

I was at Kibale for a brief visit in Summer 2008. During that short trip, the chimps were in full mating mode because an adult female was at the peak of her reproductive cycle. I saw a lot of social interactions and the chimps were moving in large party sizes. My experience so far this year (November 2009) has proven to be quite different. The differences seem to be a result of two things: food and babies. It's nearing the end of the rainy season and good food resources (i.e. ripe, fruiting trees) are sparse. Additionally, nearly all of the adult females recently gave birth - which has led to a somewhat unusual state in which there are a LOT of babies, and virtually no mating. Chimpanzee mothers tend to lactate and care for new babies for a full four years before weaning their children, developing sexual swellings, and re-establishing their role in the mating frenzies. Thus - it could be a while before the mating picks up here! As a result of the decreased amount of food and the increased number of babies - the chimps are moving in smaller parties (family units), and while social interactions are still occurring, they seem to be less frequent than when I was last here. This puts an interesting spin on my question of "How do social interactions affect pathogen transmission" - but I feel like I'm still getting good, relevant data on the current social associations. Also - social interactions will likely pick up next month when the figs start to ripen (I'm excited!). And admittedly, the infants do make observations fun. They often swing and flip around branches, play tag, and tickle each other - which is undeniably cute to watch. Here's a photo of Quiver twirling around a tree branch:

Needless to say - the fieldwork is VERY challenging. Full days (meaning days where we don't lose our focal chimpanzee!) are long 12-14 hour days that start at 5:30AM (so we can observe chimpanzees waking from their nests around 6:30AM) and end between 6:00 and 7:30PM (so we can observe chimps building and climbing into their night nests). This means I often carry 2-3 meals into the forest with me, and along with the rest of my equipment (rain gear, sample collection supplies, binoculars, water, GPS, camera, etc.), my pack ends up weighing 20+ pounds. At times, following a chimpanzee is as easy as walking along a well-cut trail. Other times, the chimpanzees choose to move through places like this:

These briars are covered in thorns that seem to constantly tug at my clothes and skin (leaving cuts that undoubtedly become infected if not washed with alcohol). A machete is a necessity for following chimps that easily (and quickly!) move through areas with briars or thick patches of vegetation like this:

The path in the middle of the vegetation above was cut with a machete just before the photo was taken. The catch to areas of thick vegetation, is that upon close inspection, it becomes apparent that the plants are crawling with biting ants:

A friend of mine who studied here warned me that the ants would become my arch nemesis - and they indeed have. It is not uncommon to be chasing after a chimpanzee while ants are crawling up my pants, down the neck of my shirt, in my hair - and even biting my face. The worst part is when you walk into a well-hidden ant nest (like the ones below) - where literally hundreds of ants will crawl onto you! Simply put: I hate ants (despite them being very cool social insects). They also invaded my kitchen last night - which isn't improving their image in my mind.

Other challenges include wading through swamps (where I undoubtedly flood my boots despite the field assistants warning "Take caution here!" - ha, I take caution - but that doesn't seem to stop me from flooding my boots), and sitting through the sometimes two-hour-long torrential downpours that suddenly start without much warning. Admittedly though - I secretly love the rainstorms. When it pours, one of two things seems to happen: 1) the chimps climb a tall tree to rest or feed and wait out the storm, or 2) we lose the chimps as they move through briars or thick vegetation and the rain drowns out the sound and direction of their movements. When the first situation plays out - I really love sitting in the rain, knowing that the chimpanzees we're following are waiting the downpour out with us. In those moments, I love just sitting, soaking in the fresh, wet air, and listening to the rain pound on the hood of my raincoat.

Despite the challenges that the fieldwork presents, there are absolutely redeeming moments that make the entire experience worthwhile. Below are a few of my favorite experiences in the forest so far:

November 8, 2009 - Following Chimpanzees Solo
In my second or third week here, I went out into the forest on a Sunday with just one field assistant (Sundays are usually quiet because most of the field assistants go to church) . The two of us left camp at 5:30AM and after watching the chimps un-nest, we sat to observe a large group of chimpanzees (10+) feed in a big fig tree. At around 8:30AM, the field assistant realized he forgot his lunch back at camp. He left to retrieve his lunch, and told me he'd be back soon and he doubted the chimps would leave the tree before he returned. At 10AM, the chimpanzees all came down from the feeding tree and started to disperse - no field assistant in sight. So, I took off and followed three mom and their babies. I followed them on my own for about 4 hours! While looking back - this may not be all that impressive - but at the time, it was hugely exciting to have my first experience of following the chimpanzees solo! The moms split up and I stayed with a group of two moms and their babies as they traveled, fed on decomposing wood, and rested. At one point I lost the chimps, and then I used my GPS to find a near-ish feeding tree that I thought they might have ventured off to. When I arrived at the tree, I was so relieved to hear figs dropping and to see the chimpanzees happily munching on fruits high up in the tree; I found the chimps after losing them! But - then I lost them again when they traveled into a patch of thick vegetation. Regardless - I was pleased with my small accomplishment for the day :) Below are two photos I took of the moms carrying their babies through the forest:

November 21, 2009 - Honey Raids by the Tongo Family
I have seen a couple of beehive raids during the time I've been here. These are both fascinating and frightening to watch! The first time I saw a chimpanzee stealing honey, it was an adult male (Mokuku) who was alone - and I was with two field assistants. Mokuku climbed up a tall tree - and the next thing we heard was loud banging followed by a very loud buzzing. The field assistants looked at each other wide eyed and then turned to run up the hill; I followed quickly behind. Mokuku came down from the tree, honey in hand, with a trail of bees following him. Amazingly, he didn't seem to mind the bees too much. He seemed annoyed - but not nearly as annoyed as I might be if I had 20 bees in my face (...and I imagine they were stinging him!).

I was lucky enough to see a second beehive raid two weeks ago. This time, I was with a family group - Tongo (the mother), and her three kids: Landjo (adult male), Tuber (juvenile male, ~10yrs), and Tsunami (juvenile female, ~5yrs) - plus the baby. Tongo found a low-lying beehive in a fallen tree. She calmly pulled honey out as the bees swarmed around her. After some begging and bickering among the siblings, Tongo finally handed out honey combs to her children. After Tongo moved and began to eat her honey comb, the two juveniles - Tuber and Tsunami - each had a go at trying to fetch some honey on their own. This was very entertaining to watch. Below is a video of Tuber attempting honey collection. I have a couple other short clips of the two siblings trying to get honey (and running away swatting!) - but the internet is too slow to post them. So, this one will have to suffice for now:

November 21, 2009 - Attempted Monkey Hunt
After eating honey, Tuber and Tongo tried to hunt a group of red colobus monkeys. The attempt failed - but while the chimpanzees were on the chase, the colobus monkeys were frantically jumping from branch to branch. Some of these jumps looked incredibly risky - and in the end, one poor monkey fell a distance of at least 40m! Amazingly - the monkey got back up, and escaped the chimpanzees. I don't have any good red colobus photos yet - but here's a photo from google image (taken by Tony Goldberg):

I also really enjoy watching the chimpanzee grooming bouts (this is when I get some really good data collection!):

Cheers for now. ~ Julie