Saturday, July 15, 2006

Looking for feeding signs

For the past few days I haven't been actually watching the chimps. Instead, I spent 4 days with Christopher (C.M.), my field assistant [picture above], searching for feeding signs that indicate the apes have been eating plants on the forest floor.

It might sound a bit of an odd thing to do but it was a thoroughly planned and randomized survey of the forest that aimed to establish how often we would come across chimp feeding signs. In particular, we were searching of THV feeding signs. THV means terrestrial herbaceous vegetation and this category of ape foods roughly includes anything which is a plant, is not too tall to be called a tree and is eaten while the apes travel on the ground. Most of the THV plants are, as their name indicate herbaceous. Some, however have woody stems. These details aside, THV plays a major role in the scientific debate about the differences in the social system of chimpanzees and bonobos. Not much time to go into that now but as a rough guideline: the chimpanzees are said to rely much less on THV foods than bonobos do. Also the bonobos seem to have access to much better THV foods in their moist forests. Which is proposed as a key element that underlies the differences in the social lives of these two closely related apes.

Having spent the last days going up and down through the range of the Kanyawara community looking for THV remains, it does look like the stuff that the chimps here have is nowhere near as nice as what I've seen in the Congo - where bonobos live. How exactly that affects the behaviour of the chimps and the bonobos is yet to be definitively established but some interesting suggestions and contra-suggestions have been made by primatologists. Again - not much time now to go into all this in detail...

Back to our census. We had to do ten 100 m each - transects in 3 areas, or a total of 30 transects. By definition a transect has to be done in a straight line and in places this was really, really irritaing thing to do. The thing about randomization is, that it's randon. So you have no control over where you will do your transects. As a consequence we (mostly my field assistant, C.M., really) had hack our way through dense undergrowth in quite a few places. As a side effect C.M. suffered lots of ant bites, while he was going infront of me, cutting the path. I was lucky to just get a few of those nasty little insects on my neck, under my shirt and in some other places I am not going to specify.

The good news is that we're done, as of yesterday. One part of my work here in Kibale is finished and even though, it's just a tiny bit of my 'to-do-list' it still feels surprisingly nice. Considering the lack of power and shower water (cold one, at that) in camp and the irritating moments when I fight with the special padlockon the door of Chimp House at base, in very early morning hours, not being able to get into the room where our filtered water is stored, things here are still going quite good.

Oh, there was the thing with the nasty scratchy plants today which got my arms to burn and itch horrendously and losing the chimps at one point and then getting lost for about an hour or more in the logged area of the forest...But I'd rather not talk about this now.

Will try to upload some more photos now.