20 February 2015
Do you remember the time that I told you about our alpha candidates, Lanjo and Eslom? And my personal opinions and feelings about both of them? Well the new has officially broken, folks: we have a new alpha at Kanyawara! To see the story that pairs with that headline check out the blog post that I co-wrote with my lab mate, Drew, on the Kibale Chimpanzee Project website (https://kibalechimpanzees.wordpress.com/news/).
*DISCLAIMER: the following commentary represents my thoughts, feeling, and opinions alone and does not necessarily reflect those of other individual or group of individuals including but not limited to those associated with KCP, the University of New Mexico, or Harvard University*
I was there when it happened that Tuesday afternoon. Not ten meters from where I sat with the FA’s, another researcher, and our new photographer. The photographer could sense that something big was happening- I’m not sure if he picked up more on the chimp cues or our dropped jaws. It was such a quietly colossal moment.
Somehow I just thought that it would be more of a big deal. I don’t know why it wsa so dead-set in my head. Maybe it was the way things went down between PK and Squirt at Kakamega. It seemed like PK would prefer to die-like he was actively trying to get himself killed- than lose his alpha status. There was so much horrific bloodshed- he suffered a gash to his forehead that opened his skin to the bone. Gravity pulled it down over his eye, closing it completely but leaving the big swatch of skull exposed. It was gruesome.
True, this situation was very different- not a coups d’etas, just a race for the open slot. But I still expected something more like that battle royale. I imagined that Lanjo would finally accept Eslom’s challenges and they would come to blows as the rest of the community watched with eager anticipation. A drawn out, hard-fought battle, and at least a bit of blood. Why yes, I am anthropomorphizing right now. Terribly unscientific of me!
One thing that I honestly expected was an immediate and palpable shift in group social dynamic. And this did not happen.
Yes, Lanjo pant-grunted to formally admit defeat and concede the title, but over the next two weeks it seemed like things went on as usual, like the pant-grunt was an isolated incident. Lanjo might have afforded Eslom a slightly larger berth, but he did not obviously avoid his alpha. Neither did Eslom target Lanjo. I started to think maybe we jumped the gun or imagined the whole thing in the first place.
I finally detected the shift mid-February. Eslom began making foraging and traveling decisions and everyone followed. He’s led no less than six hunts since he became alpha and four have been successful. He’s taken a monkey in all four of the successful ones. In fact, one hunt ranks among the most successful in our history- they took down seven red colobus that day. Even a female or two snatched some monkeys. Max (who lost both of his feet to snare injuries as a juvenile) managed to take a monkey!
By now it is unmistakable. Eslom has settled into his new role, everyone respects his status. He still plays with all the babies- especially Winza and Leaky- and he even defends our 6-year-old-orphan, Moon (I will be posting about Moon shortly). His displays have come a long way since my first summer. He moves with finessed and measured muscle power. He has this kind of masculine elegance similar an Olympic gymnast. He is also perfectly puffy like a teddy bear when his hair goes piloerect during a display, but somehow that feels like I’m undermining his alpha-ness.
Then again, maybe I’m not. Maybe the best way to conceive of Eslom is to try and make wrap your brain around a very manly, badass, tough-as-nails teddy bear with super-hero strength and the grace of a dancer.
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This blog is a forum share my personal experiences as a field researcher and traveler.