Mango is one of the original five infants of my study and, like her contemporaries, has grown-up so much since I met her! In 2013 both she and her mother, Michelle, were very shy. Michelle especially dislikes the camera and was very protective over little Mango. The pair also spent quite a lot of time on their own which added an extra level of difficulty for finding and tracking them. One of my favorite early moments following Mango was an hour-long play bout with Mango swinging across a trail in a tangle of vines. She was having so much fun and I couldn’t help but giggle through the whole hour. Until this season, Michelle and Mango were easily among the most difficult chimps for me to follow and photograph.
Over the years Michelle has slowly become more and more comfortable with researchers and in her position in the group and consequently spends more time with other chimps toward the center of the community. Mango’s curiosity has grown and she’s become bolder and more playful.
The thing about a pair of chimps like Michelle and Mango is that they remind me what my job means in ways that are more intrinsic than the science that I do. They teach me patience and flexibility. They teach me to track. They encourage me to work on my relationship with the forest and how to move through it. These two are the type whose trust you have to earn slowly over the days and months and years. But once you’re in its so worth it!
Last year (2015) I caught Michelle in a rare jovial moment: she completely she her normal serious adult façade, dropping her bottom mouth into a play into a big open play-face before charging into a massive play bout between five juveniles. Mango wasn’t even playing at the time! Michelle just jumped right in with all the kids first and waited for her daughter to catch up! That moment was one of the happiest of my life and instantly became a bit of a metaphor that I rely on to help me remember why I do what I do when things get hard. My job can be so difficult in so many dimensions-both in the field and back in the states- and it can be so easy to fall into a hole of questioning how and why I ended up here… but remembering the day that Michelle and Mango jumped into a pile of wrestling chimp kiddos is like instant happiness and one of the easiest reminders of how to answer all of those life questions.
This summer, when Michelle gave birth to Mango’s new baby brother, Mucoso, the distraction gave Mango some extra room to stretch her social legs! And that’s when I finally snapped this photos- which you may recognize from my homepage.
More to come...
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This blog is a forum share my personal experiences as a field researcher and traveler.