Something different about this field season is that my focus for data collection is grown up chimps and adolescents, rather than the infants and juveniles. At first, that felt like it would be a very difficult change for me because I would miss the babies so much--- until I realized that I have been doing this long enough for that first cohort of kiddos in my dissertation work to graduate into adolescence and even adulthood. After that I just felt old for a minute. It was a roller coaster.
Gola is one of these graduate females. She was just a toddler when first met her during my pilot season- a tiny little ball of chimp fluff, and she was under the weather and very pouty that day. As she felt better that summer, and over subsequent seasons of data collection I watched Gola grow, her playful personality out-pacing her stature. She became one of my best-photographed chimps- and I still haven't captured a better portrait then that very first image of Gola. Between ending one project and starting this new one I crossed all my toes and fingers that I could make it back before she immigrated. Then, just before I reached the field station, we got word that she had come out of her night nest with her own tiny baby!
Now, this is a rare treat for someone like me who studies chimpanzees because most of the time, adolescent females leave their natal groups and join a new group to reproduce. In fact, we’ve gained two such immigrant subadult females this year! Because it is so rare, we don’t have a very solid handle on why it happens (but see this reference about dispersal at Gombe). In this case, it’s possible that Gola stuck around because her high-ranking mother, who recently died, left behind a good core area that Gola could slip right into instead of taking the risk of establishing herself in a new group- but keep in mind that that’s just one hypothesis.
Regardless of why she stayed, the fact that she did gives us the rare opportunity to follow a female chimpanzee and record their behavior from infancy through adulthood. I find it especially exciting because now I get the chance to watch how she is as a mother after watching her own mother raise her. How will her style compare to her mother’s? Will her personality change through this big life change? Stay tuned as we learn and observe more, but for now, enjoy these images of Gola and Ginger.
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This blog is a forum share my personal experiences as a field researcher and traveler.