Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Internet is really slow here in Fort Portal. Which means that I can't upload any
of the absolutely fabulous photos that Ian and I have from the past few days in
the forest. Will try again from Entebbe where the biggest event in the
primatological world will be held from June 25th or so: the Congress of the
International Primatological Society. Hopefully there will be internet access

Until then we'll have to use words only.

The past two days were intense. You get up at 4.15, have breakfast and get ready
to leave camp at around 5.15 AM. Then you walk for about 40- 60 minutes to
reach the place where the chimps have made their nests for the night. One
colleague of ours (Herman) had described the terrain of Kibale forest as
consisting of 'undulating hills' in one of his research articles. Undulating is
not the phrasing I'd use to describe the hills we have to go up and down before
the crack of dawn, but I suppose you are not really allowed to use swear words
in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Once you get to the nests of the chimps, though, it gets fun (well, except when
the chimps start going up and down those 'undulating' hills and you have to go
after them). I still can't fully get over the fact that a bunch of wild
animals, that in some places in Africa are terrified of humans, are totally
cool with having people around them at such close distance on a daily basis.
They really don't care.

I started trying to collect some data for my pilot project which basically means
I am trying to follow one chimp from the moment it gets down on the ground to
the moment it goes up a tree again, usually to eat some fruit. The field
assistants are so helpful - they can tell you which chimp is which just by a
casual quick look at it without even using binoculars, sometimes even if the
chimp is sitting with its back on us. If it wasn't for these guys I'd need
probably months and months before I start confidently recognizing the
individual animals.

Have to go soon now, so just a brief highlight from yesterday:
A group of 6 or so chimps resting on a trail, including the top male, Imoso.
Ubrella with her infant was also there. Two males groomed each other
thoroughly, taking turns. Then they stretched they arms up above their heads,
clasping one hand each, using their other hands to carry on grooming - this is
the so called 'hand-clasp grooming', a kind of chimp culture which you can see
among some chimp communities but not others. Having spent last Fall at Harvard
doing a term paper on this behaviour, it was quite nice to see it live about 15
metres in front of me, performed by two largish and very chilled out males.

There is also a picture but that will have to wait.