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Fluctuating Fortunes

Fluctuating Fortunes
Dr Matt McLennan beneath a chimpanzee night nest at Bulindi.

Dr Matt McLennan beneath a chimpanzee night nest at Bulindi.

In the last post, Dr Matt McLennan gave an encouraging update on the progress of The Bulindi Chimpanzee & Community Project, 7-months after its launch. Here, he reports on the progress of the chimpanzees themselves.

By Matt McLennan

The Bulindi Chimpanzee & Community Project has got off to a great start. As for the chimpanzees, they’ve been going about their business much as usual these past few months, blissfully unaware of the efforts underway to end 15 years of forest destruction that has transformed their habitat and changed their lives so drastically. Earlier this year the chimps suffered a major setback when Olive – a female in her prime and a doting mother of three – was killed, along with her 4-month old infant, by a speeding taxi on the road that crosses their home range. She was survived by two older offspring, Moses – a tempestuous adolescent – and younger brother Araali. I’m pleased to report that the brothers are both doing fine, having coped with the loss of their mother remarkably well.

Moses, a tempestuous adolescent

Moses, a tempestuous adolescent

Moses is unquestionably the main cause of disruption in the group. Some days he disturbs the females incessantly with his displays, particularly when one or more of the ‘ladies’ are in season and therefore especially attractive to a red-blooded male like Moses. Inevitably, these disturbances sometimes lead to fights that require the intervention of alpha male Sylvester. Despite his intimidating size and a glare that can turn your blood cold, Sylvester is neither particularly aggressive nor a bully. He exercises a ‘firm but fair’ policy when it comes to keeping order, and almost never resorts to physical reprimands. Last week, however, he found it necessary to thoroughly discipline Moses, such was the commotion sparked by his antics. But Moses is not the kind of young male to learn from his mistakes. By the next day he was causing trouble again.

Alpha male Sylvester: firm but fair

Alpha male Sylvester: firm but fair

At 11 years old, Moses is getting bigger by the day but he’s still a few years away from adulthood. Possibly, he’ll calm down and learn to better control his raging teenage hormones (though we’re sceptical!). Moses does possess some admirable qualities, however. He reveals a gentle, caring side to his character in his interactions with the infants in the community. He seems particularly fond of Mirinda’s 2-year old son, Merrick, at times fastidiously grooming, carrying and playing with him. Perhaps he misses having an infant sibling to help care for.

Moses tenderly grooming Merrick

Moses tenderly grooming Merrick

Unlike Moses, younger brother Araali totally depended on Olive when she died. Aged 6 or 7, he was still very young to be orphaned and we worried how well he’d fare. Nine months on, Araali seems to be doing OK. He didn’t enter into a depression, as some orphans do, and he quickly learnt to forage for himself and keep up with the rest of the group during travel. Nevertheless, Araali’s an odd little fellow in some respects. Above all else he loves to play; however, his play sessions with other youngsters frequently end in tears when he gets too rough. Without Olive to come to his defense, he often finds himself reprimanded by the angry mothers of his play-mates. Although Moses supported Araali in the initial weeks and months following Olive’s accident, increasingly Moses seems more preoccupied with sex and social status than the fortunes of his younger brother. Araali’s social skills also seem rather underdeveloped. Unlike his close age-mates, Jack and Gerald, Araali is yet to start grooming other chimps in his community. For a young male nearing adolescence, grooming the adult males in particular is a way to ingratiate himself with his seniors, and to make friends and potential allies for the future. But for now, we’re not too worried – Araali still has plenty of time to catch up!

Araali

Araali

Unfortunately, there’s one chimp who we’re very worried about indeed. In early October, Bulindi’s fine young adult male Tom sustained a serious injury to his foot, most likely caused by a steel trap (known as ‘man traps’). The males had spent several days away from the central portion of their range. We don’t know where they went, but we do know that some farmers in more peripheral areas use traps to catch wild game or to protect their crops from wildlife, including chimpanzees. Whatever the case, Tom returned from this foray with a mangled left foot. Chimps are extraordinarily resilient and, while the injury was nasty, we fully expected him to recover in a few weeks. However, it’s been more than 6 weeks since we last saw him, and the chances of him returning become less and less likely with each passing day. I’m still hopeful he’ll show up soon; perhaps the wound is taking a long time to heal fully, and he’s keeping a low profile until he feels strong again. Tom is a wonderful chimpanzee, calm and astute, and it seems unimaginable that he may be gone for good. I really hope that I can report on his triumphant reappearance in the next post!

Tom, in the week before his injury

Tom, in the week before his injury

On a brighter note, the youngest member of the Bulindi chimp community – Teddy’s 16-month old son – has now been officially named Ally!

Little Ally

Little Ally

Finally, I’d like to once again thank the many, many kind and generous individuals who have donated to the Bulindi Chimpanzee & Community Project, as well as the organisations and institutions who have sponsored or raised funds for the project. These include Blair Drummond Safari Park, Global Greengrants, the Jane Goodall Institute-Austria, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura, Little Gems Primary School, and the Friends of CSWCT. Thank you!

We’re still very gratefully receiving donations to the project, so if you’d like to help “Save a Chimp & Empower a Child”, please visit our campaign page: https://www.razoo.com/story/Save-A-Chimp-Empower-A-Child-1