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!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

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


  1. dude, holy crap!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i dont have the space to comment on how awesome this is, but HOLY CRAP!!!!!! the pictures are INSANE. they are so so so so good!!!!! and the stories- my gosh, this is fabulous story-telling. i cant get enough and i cant tell you how awesome it is to see the pictures and video!!!!!!!!!!!! wow julie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Cool, where they feeding on decomposing wood or digging around in the decomposing wood for grubs/beetles?

  3. Totally completely agree with you on hating ants. They get in everything. And there are all the various types of ants that can do different things to you. I developed a phobia of safari/driver ants or whatever they are called. HAAAAATE them. And then the lil ants that get all over you and bite bite bite.

    Love your updates and your pics of the chimps. I got to see the Sierra Leone chimps that would come and eat our mangoes at the research camp; though they weren't habituated, if I was alone and didn't move around too much, they didn't seem to mind my presence too much. :)

    I go back in March!! :-D Still crossing my fingers for the 9 grants I have in, but I got one from a zoo (small one but better than nuttin!)