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Monday, May 10, 2010

Consortships and other sexual advances in the forest

March 21, 2010

Today I followed Outamba – an adult female chimpanzee who has five kids (that's a lot for a chimp)! Outamba had a small swelling, and being that she is extremely prolific for a chimp – she must be attractive to the males in the community. Mokoku, an adult male, probably saw this as an opportunity and attempted to sneak her (and her large family) away from the other chimpanzees for a sexual consortship (i.e. an extended period alone where he would have exclusive access to mate with her). I had never seen a male initiate consortship before – so it was pretty cool to see everything play out…and it was especially interesting because Outamba seemed incredibly resistant to the idea of leaving the community – particularly during one of the peak fruiting seasons.
The day started with Mokoku shaking branches at Outamba (yes, male chimpanzees "invite" females by shaking branches at them…sometimes quite aggressively). While Outamba stalled and seemed resistant to Mokoku's invitations, her children were all too eager to hang out with a high ranking male – especially her young son who continually moved with Mokoku and watched his every action. After much branch shaking, Mokoku finally led Outamba and her family away from the central area and towards the periphery of the community home range. Everyone fed on fruits and leaves and the kids played a lot. This lasted for about an hour or two – when suddenly, Outamba was nowhere to be found. I don't know how she did it, but she slipped away and hid somewhere without anyone noticing.
Once the other chimps realized that Outamba was no longer around, things became chaotic. Her son began frantically running (back-tracking) through the forest, and his little sister trailed behind him screaming loudly. Mokoku – followed quickly behind them displaying aggressively by dragging branches, banging on trees, and making loud vocalizations. After running a good distance, Outamba's juvenile son and daughter both climbed a tree and frantically looked around the area while interchanging screams with whimpers. All the while Mokoku waited nearby and occasionally displayed. Finally, he gave up and left, returning to the central area while Outamba's kids remained whimpering in a tree. After nearly ten minutes of this – Outamba appeared from an area of dense vegetation. Her kids quickly climbed down (their cries ceased immediately) and there was a short grooming session before they all traveled together back to the central area.
By mid-day Outamba and her family came to a tree where Mokoku was feeding. After an hour or so of eating fruits, Mokoku violently attacked Outamba – hitting her and eventually pushing her down and stomping on her back. He then briefly groomed her and inspected her genital swelling (an indication of how fertile she is). Then it all started over again. Mokoku shook branches, Outamba stalled and would reluctantly follow, all the while her young son eagerly kept up with Mokoku. For a few hours it went on like this: Mokoku would move ahead of Outamba a few meters and branch shake, Outamba would sloooowly follow – very much taking her time, Mokoku would violently branch shake, Outamba would finally walk over to him, Mokoku would groom Outamba briefly – and then he would move another few meters and start to summon her again.
After a couple hours of slowly moving like this, Mokoku, Outamba, and her children reached a feeding patch (what we call THV or "thick herbaceous vegetation", jargon – I know) where they spent several hours eating. Near the end of the day, several of the other females and their children arrived at the same THV patch. Afterwards, the whole party of adult females, kids, and Mokoku moved in a single-file line down a trail to a nesting site. Mokoku was at the front of the line, and Outamba stalled and joined the line last. While Mokoku and the other moms were walking along the trail – Outamba and her kids slipped away without anyone noticing. They moved quietly and quickly and fed alone in a tree before nesting. Shortly after the Outamba family separated from the rest of the group, we could hear Mokoku displaying from a distance – probably once he realized she had snuck away again.


  1. and they say we're not related...

  2. That's so amazing that you got to see all that in one day! I wonder what happened next!