09 Feb 2014
As I watched Outamba’s family playing on the path, a large male approached, piloerect and stiff-armed. Females pant-grunting in submission, he moved right into the middle of the bunch and sat, looking fierce. Pairs of playful infants and juveniles went right on wrestling, seeming not to notice. They tumbled closer, falling over each other and into his legs when suddenly he snapped to life snatching an infant male, Tembo. Tembo let out a small squeak as he was ripped away from his play mate- but it was too late. The male already held Tembo’s exposed tummy against his open mouth- his fingers tangling around Tembo’s torso and arms and legs. As his mother looked on, Tembo struggled against those strong hands. Biting fingers and pulling hair. The male held firm, smushing his open mouth into Tembo’s belly but never fully biting down. Tembo gasped with little chimpanzee laughter as the male squirmed his fingers into all the best spots with just enough force, but never too much, for a solid ten minutes of tickle time.
Moments like that one are my favorite. I am consistently amazed that male chimpanzees can be so fearsome and brutish in one moment, and so tender and gentle in the next. The same male that showed such careful restraint playing with Tembo was chasing and attacking a subadult female with pounding fists merely moments before. The way they crash through the undergrowth demolishing trees and unleash seemingly unbridled muscle power and yet- sigh. I love that I get to study the other side of that coin.
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This blog is a forum share my personal experiences as a field researcher and traveler.