Last update: 11/30/2016
Also, please excuse any typos. There have been lots. I've caught a bunch of them, but I am sure there are more. There's even one in the weblink to this blog because I had one in the title when I first posted! But as you will see, on day 2, I hurt my pinky, so I've had to re-learn typing with my left hand!
(1) This is another charm of Gombe – other places on the coast have liver fluke parasites, but here the waves are rough enough that they don’t survive. Also, there are not bot or mango flies! Which is the hell I’ve heard the most about from my primatologist friends. So wet clothes are not breeding grounds for eggs of parasites that will burrow into your skin once they hatch. Again, this place is pretty magical.
Rob managed to take a pic of me climbing some vines before things got too hairy. The dense vegetation was easy to climb. This was not true the whole way up!
Today was the first day we encountered the chimps! The valley behind camp is their core area, so the trail system is the most complete and there is always a good chance of seeing the chimps. We came across the mother-infant team (Jane Goodall Institute field assistants) along the trail on our way across the valley to visit some additional mounds. There were probably about six chimps in the group, with two very young juveniles. Watching the juveniles is seriously endless fun! They explore and play and pretty much keep moving nonstop. After a short while, the group took off uphill, so we continued on with the rest of the termite mounds on the day’s list. Rob has been collecting data since the beginning of the month, so we are reaching the end of what we set out to do. We pretty much hit all our targets now, so for the next couple of days, we may just go out and find the chimps in hopes that one of them will lead us to a good termite mound where they want to do some fishing.
Today is also Thanksgiving. I am very thankful to have opportunities like this and to have been able to have made a career out of it. The fact that I have a job where I use the degrees I earned is something I never take for granted.
My most frustrating thing today is being reminded that I am a terrible photographer. I really don't know how to use an SLR, and the "auto" settings clearly don't cut it. I am going with the method of "take a ton of photos and hope one by chance turns out well."
Tomorrow is Rob's last day in the forest. We are praying for rain! We want ALL the termites to come out! There was a storm cloud and some thunder this afternoon, but it passed us by. Maybe it hit somewhere else in the park, and maybe that bodes well for the conditions to bring rain tonight.
We followed the chimps today and stuck with Tanga who is a committed termite fisher. She definitely tried to fish at one mound, but had no luck and moved on quickly. However, watching her break a branch from a tree to use as a tool as she was on her way to the mound was a cool enough sight in itself. She grabbed it at least 20 meters before the mound, so there was no doubt where she was headed or what she intended to do. I will have three more days in the forest before I have to leave and I will stick to this method – follow Tanga. Not only do I know that she is eager for termites, but she is also the mom of that adorable four-month-old baby that is in some of my photos. When the baby is awake, she is incredibly cute, swinging from the trees, chewing on mom’s foot, or other curious baby things. She is also very entertaining when she is sound asleep. She gets a tight grip on her mom’s fur with her hands, but not with her feet, so if mom gets up to move, she dangles like a ragdoll, and it is immensely entertaining to watch Tanga try to reposition her to the center of her back. This also keeps Tanga from moving too quickly through the forest, so I believe she is a focal target that I can actually manage to follow.
After we were done with the chimps for the day we decided to visit the Kakombe waterfall. This is one of the touristy things I was going to do after Rob left, but it was relatively on our way home, so we decided to go. The path to it was a very mild incline, but I was spent. I was almost regretting the decision to squeeze it in at the end of the day. But wow, was it worth it once we got there. It’s a pretty tall waterfall, about 25 meters or so, and you can get right to the base of it. The cool mist was revitalizing for body and soul. Locally it is thought of as a magical place, and I could definitely feel why.
And now today's batch of my favorite photos:
However, even in camp, there is no shortage of wildlife encounters. I had a stand-off with a “small” centipede (about 5 inches long). It was on my floor, and although I did not want it in my house, I did not feel the need to kill it. The trap-it-under-a-glass trick that I learned from my mother wasn’t exactly going to cut it, but I did manage to modify the technique using a Tupperware (transparent so I could keep an eye on the thing) and use a broom to sweep it out of the house.
Additionally, there is a troop of baboons that lives in camp. Normally I only see them when I take a walk across camp to the office to access the internet once a day. More times than not, they are directly on the path and I have to navigate right-of-way with them. The seasoned researchers here pass them with very little notice; however, they make me a bit nervous. I tend to hang back and hope they cross out of the way before I need to pass. Today they have been very fascinated with my house. They have been hanging around all afternoon, and this morning they used the house as a jungle gym, chasing each other all around and over the metal roof, causing quite the ruckus. Maybe this is their normal routine and I am just not normally here to witness it, however, I do make sure to keep the door locked at all times because I know they want nothing more than to raid the kitchen.
Rob is now making his way by boat back to Kigoma where he will begin finalizing our permits for shipping out our samples before flying back home on Thursday. I am very grateful to him for joining this project. Before he left, he gave me a few more photo gems that he had taken.
I was a little nervous about how the day would go because we did not know exactly where the chimps were since no one was with them last night when they nested. But fortunately, they were pretty low, which is where the termites are most active. We found Tanga around 9:30 and she pretty quickly broke off the path and headed to a termite mound. I was pretty pleased with my strategy and how well it already seemed to be working. However, she had no luck and quickly moved on. As we were on our way up the path, we were met by a JGI field research who told us he saw Glitter fishing at a termite mound. The mound was only a short ways away, but I expected that she would be finishing up when we got there. However, she stayed there and fished, along with her daughter Gosama, for about a half hour! It was truly ideal. Glitter is a well-habituated and friendly-to-people chimp and her daughter was the same. I was able to get into a position where I could get a clear view of them at the mound (vines and branches almost always ruin the shot) and I took a bunch of pictures. Like 1,000 pictures (switching between two cameras, both on continuous shooting). I managed to get a couple shots with which I am truly in love.
This first shot is from early after my arrival. When I got there, Glitter was committed to looking for a tool, but Gosama decided it was time to nurse. I got to witness a full-on chimp toddler temper tantrum. After getting her tool, Glitter settled into a good spot for fishing and let Gosama nurse. Getting to see this and capture it is especially exciting for me because a lot of what I discuss about edible insects is how important they are being a nutritious animal-based food that females can access even with baby in tow.
Then after fishing for about 10 minutes, she went over by her mother and decided that that location was a better place to fish. Glitter let her and headed back to her original spot. THIS is the shot I traveled to Tanzania for. You can even zoom in and see the termites on the tool.
After hearing some vocalizations up the hill, Glitter and Gosama left the mound to rejoin the group. Up there, the chimps were getting excited about possibly hunting colobus monkeys. I stayed with them for about two hours to see if they would have a successful hunt, but today wasn’t the day. It was still interesting to watch them climb up the trees and wait in almost total silence. For the most part, if the chimps are not eating fruit (or nested for the night), they are on the ground lounging, grooming, etc. They also are very vocal and loud (that's how we can find them in the forest). So it is clear that they were all working together up in the trees hoping to catch a monkey.
Shortly after getting back to camp, it began to rain! It rained really hard for a couple of minutes, but then has been consistently raining almost two hours now with no signs of stopping. This is good news. Maybe I will get my last wish and see those flying termites.
First was Faustino, an adult male. I saw him fish for a bit yesterday as well, and today was the same thing.. he likes fishing where there is no way for me to get a good shot past the vines!
I want to take a moment to post these photos from the other day of Tanga and her sleepy baby. After I had already blogged about it, I saw them at it again. I managed to capture a shot of how Tanga kicks up her leg to try to reposition the infant. It made me giggle every time I saw it.
1) The obvious.. the different environment. The savannah habitat is important for my work since a lot of reconstructions of hominid environments have suggested savannah/open woodland, but in terms of visiting it, it is most like the environments I work in when working at a fossil hominin site, whether in East or South Africa. I really enjoy being in the forest. The forest has always been a place I have gone for fun; I just enjoy the sounds, smells, and everything about this environment.
2) The weather. Although I was hoping for more rain because it makes the termites more active and I wanted to get to see them fly, it has made for a much more enjoyable day-to-day. The weather has been mostly humid 75-degree (F) days. Although I get drenched in sweat everyday, 75 degrees is about as good as it gets. And the sweatiness just makes jumping in the lake feel that much better! At Fongoli, it was dry, which was nice, but it was almost always over 100 degrees. I feel like 103 was the norm. Not only was this pretty miserable for the people, but the chimpanzees were also not very active.
And 3) Habituation. The Gombe chimpanzees are the best habituated chimpanzees anywhere. Jane Goodall first came here in 1960, and now there are teams of people who are out with the chimps every day. Although some distance is kept between the people and the chimpanees, it is not uncommon for a chimp to touch a person, either just through passing, to play, or by a dominance displacy. At Fongoli, Jill Pruetz began habituating the chimpanzees in the early 2000s (I believe) and only one or two researchers are out with the chimps on a regular basis. Additionally, the habitat of these chimpanzees neighbors local villages, and there are known instances of people shooting a chimpanzee that has come close to their home. Therefore, it is important to the researchers at the site that the chimpanzees maintain a healthy fear of people. Almost all observations were done through binoculars in order to see well-enough what the chimps were doing.
Here are two photos from my time at Fongoli, you can see the habitat and also how the closest I ever got to a termiting chimp.