Sunday, July 02, 2006

The big primate congress

Over the last week the most massive gathering of primatologists (over 700 people) took place in a very posh hotel on the shore of Lake Victoria – the 21st Congress of the International Primatological Society. This was the reason I left the forest for a week and indulged in power-point extravaganza of monkeys and apes. From lemurs to chimps, from territorial aggression to mother-infant relations, from evolutionary history of primate lineages to the gloom of the bush-meat trade - very few topics related in any way to our closest relatives were left uncovered. With presentations by so many researchers going on simultaneously in different halls of the hotel, deciding which talks to attend was not easy.

Just to give you an impression, here is a random list of some of the highlights of the week:

- Attending a talk that included showing of some uncensored orangutan porn.
- Watching a researcher gyrate her hips with arms above her head, while pretending to be a slow loris making a cobra impersonation (a kind of defense mechanism against predators).
- Passing through two metal detectors on the way into the hotel for the opening ceremony of the Congress to see the President of Uganda give a welcoming speech. Now I know Uganda is one of the very few countries in the world that can boast with having the Equator pass through it. Apparently, it is also similar in some respect to Ecuador. But otherwise unique. Which is true in so many ways…
- Jane Goodall giving a talk and made loud chimpanzee vocalizations in front of the entire congress audience (to which all the primatologists in the audience were asked to reply with the characteristic vocalizations of whichever primate they happened to study).
- Studying the response of various speakers to sudden power cuts which would persistently disrupt their power-point presentations and spice things up a bit.
- Watching footage, showing the methods that the people of Madagascar use to catch bush-meat, which in their case consisted mainly of different species of lemurs. One of the sequences followed a hunter in the rainforest, arriving at his trap and finding a lemur caught in it, still alive and struggling. The hunter started hitting the animal with his machete repeatedly over the head. The animal struggled to free itself frantically. Which led to it receiving more and more blows with the machete until finally it stopped squeaking. Sad but true. That is how a great number of people acquire a significant part of their diet not just in Madagascar but in many other places, as well.
- Last but not least: voting in the Hottest Primatologist at the Congress Poll - an unofficial and rather subjective survey, carried out by a colleague of mine. There were four separate categories for which you could nominate people, that you thought are hot and then vote for all the nominated ones. The categories were split by sex and by age – male/female & under/over 35 years old. I believe, some of the categories were highly contested right up until the end of the last day of the Congress. But more about that later. May be…