Today we waited for the sun to rise a bit before heading into the forest because there were elephants on the road as Fred and Dan were heading to chimp house. I had heard them from my porch- when Dan and Fred approached I strobed my flashlight in their direction and called “Enjojo!” waiting for the elephants to pass. Even by the time we entered the forest, the elephants were only 150m or so down Karambe road. As we turned up Census, Dan peered down Karambe. “Look!”
He pointed down the road as the profile of a massive elephant with absolutely enormous tusks emerged onto Karambe and fell into line behind two more elephants: a smallish young one, and another big one. They filled the entire road as they lumbered along.
I always count an encounter like this one as a good omen. Elephants are incredible to see from a safe distance. Every single time I see them this way, my utter amazement of them is renewed.
We continued in the other direction, up Cenus, meeting some females on the road. The girls led us back to the mucoso where we met with another, larger group of chimps chowing down their breakfasts. As we counted and identified each chimp in the party, Gola darted across a limb of the colossal tree carrying a hunk of something in her hand and her hip pocket, alternatively. She was so high up in the soft gray dawn light that we could barely make out what she carried- even through my binoculars.
“It looks like a huge piece of meat…” I muttered.
Dan and Fred nodded their heads in agreement. As we discussed what it might be, we thought it was a bit strange. No one saw them hunt yesterday, so this one must be fresh. And yet, it looked entirely hairless, so they must have been working on the carcass for a while. What part of the monkey could it be anyway? I noticed a thin, stringy bit like tendon or intestines. Again, strange. It wasn’t a piece with limbs on it, and kids almost never got those best torso bits with all the good guts that males love so much. And where was the rest of the monkey anyway? Who caught it? Were there others??
Some of the other juveniles approached her curiously. Each leaned in to examine the thing from a few inches away, smelling it, then moving away after a few moments. But none of the adults were very interested. And no one begged for it. And I still couldn’t locate any other chimps with meat. But then, it was truly poor viewing. Someone could have easily been chomping away at the rest of the monkey in a safe spot that was too high for me to find or to dark for my eyes in this light.
I made a note to keep an eye out and began my focal follow on Moon while the guys continued to mark down who was in the party.
A few minutes later Dan announced “Wangari is here!”
My heart leapt a little! I followed her youngest son, Winza, yesterday in the afternoon and I couldn’t find Wangari anywhere. The guys had seen her on Sunday, but her absence worried me because Winza rarely strays far from his monther. She isn’t dead! I thought. And thank Darwin because I am not ready for another loss so quickly into the new season.
Binoculars up—I searched her as she climbed down from the heights of the mucosu….something thin and stringy dangled from between her legs. It looked like monkey intestines. But then, if it were a monkey, wouldn’t be carrying that in her hands or her mouth? Between her legs a tiny black bundle—wait, wait, could it be?! Did Wangari have a BABY?! Is that a stringy UMBILICAL CORD?! YES!!!
Wohoo! Talk about a great start to the season- let alone the day! Wangari finally had a new baby!
Wait, wait, wait again.
The meat that Gola had, the hunk that, to the best of my previous assessment, looked like a cross between a tenderloin and a big liver, like cow liver- there was a stringy part that looked like an intestine hanging down from that thing too. She licked a few times before tucking the whole mess back into her hip pocket. Could this stringy thing also be umbilical cord? Is Gola noshing on Wangari’s placenta?
First thought: Have we ever seen that before? There are plenty of animals that eat their placentas after birth, but how often do non-mothers sneak a taste? I remember my advisor telling me a story about one female actually burying the placenta after the birth of her infant. I’ve never seen a female give birth and we never saw Tenkere’s, Outamba’s, or Michelle’s placenta last season. So I don’t have any personal experience in the matter. But it seems strange for one individual to consume the placenta of another. Note to self: ask the long-term FA’s if they have ever seen this before so I can write a more informed piece later.
Second thought: Chimps are so gross sometimes.
Yes, I know. How terribly unscientific of me! But I'll take no judgment from you unless you can look me in the eye and tell me that you didn’t cringe a little reading it? Be honest!
What an absolutely wonderful way to start a season! Just absolutely incredible! Now I’m only waiting on one of the little ladies that I started this project with to become a big sister: Lilly. Then all of the only-kids and youngest babies from my first season will have graduated to the next stage of their young social lives!
I’m trying to hold on to rationality, and to stop myself counting any chickens, but I think maybe, just maaaybe, this season might be a really, really good one.
Day one in the forest:
I’ve never been an early riser, but the anticipation of reuniting with the chimps (regardless of my awareness that they surely are never as excited to see me) always the edge off of that 5am wake-up call. I actually find myself looking forward to those brisk, dark mornings, swallowing as much coffee as I can while check my gear before heading out the door.
I know they’ve been in relatively large groups. All of the standard, staple females have been around. The big mammas, Outamba, and Lia, with their growing gaggles of juveniles. The boys have been telling me all about Lia- carrying the new baby on the front and the older one on her back- I’ve been dying to see it! Poor Lia has such a big belly in the first place. I can’t imagine how she might possibly fit both babies on her body without dragging one along the ground. She must be exhausted. And then little Leakey can’t be too happy about it either. It’s not exactly fair to make the two-and-a-half year-old walk everywhere.
I’m eager to see how grown-up little Thatcher has become now that she has a younger brother to play with and care for. All but one of the youngest babies from my first pilot season have little siblings now… I can’t wait to see how they each have changed with the addition of their mamma's new babies!
And then there are the two orphans, and two snared juveniles to check-in on. By the time I left last season Wenka was adjusting quite well to her amputated fingers, but Basuta’s injury is fresh. Losing a mother and your fingers in six-months is a tough order, even for a juvenile as big and confident as he is.
These are all the things I’m thinking about as we march up the road in the growing dawn light.
We met them on the road. Tuke displayed back and forth across Census as everyone woke and headed to a nearby mimusops for breakfast. Delta, the new female from last year, was around, and so was Omusisa, both of them in estrus. Oh boy, I thought, It’s gonna be a day. As we reached the tree, the foraging party grew bigger and bigger to include a handful of males, and another half a dozen females and all of their kids! I quickly realized that this was so full of so many kids that I couldn’t possibly follow them all today, or even over two days! It is my favorite kind of problem to have, and a rarer one that you might think, often times the day begins with just one or two kids around. More often than that, the one or two kids around are the one or two that I’ve followed more than any other. But today, opening day, I was faced with the perplexing question of how to choose which kid I should follow first?
I skipped over Utah because I knew Umbrella wouldn’t be too hard to find again. Stella too, for the same reason. Moon and Basuta were around but the both seemed a bit squirly, better to let them get used to me again. The O’s were all there, and all made good candidates because it can be impossible to get through them all on enough different days to get enough hours on each. Michelle had little Mucoso, who I hadn’t ever followed yet. How appropriate to follow Mucoso in a Ficus mucoso?!
But then my eyes rested on Thatcher. She’s been with me since the beginning. Her family doesn’t need too much time to get used to me. There’s little Tangawizi too! And my first follow of the season with my favorite little chimp? Don’t mind if I do…
This is my favorite kind of problem to have.
This blog is a forum share my personal experiences as a field researcher and traveler.