NOVEMBER ’16 NEWS UPDATE FROM BULINDI
By Marie Cibot
Marie Cibot is a veterinarian and primatologist. For her PhD, she studied wild chimpanzees in the Sebitoli area of Kibale National Park, in Uganda. Earlier this year, Marie visited Bulindi for the first time to begin a study examining the health of people, primates and domestic animals in the Bulindi area. In October she returned to continue her research. Here, she gives an update on the project and the progress of the chimps – including the 3 new babies born in April!
(You can help improve lives for the people and the chimps by visiting the Saving Bulindi Chimps Crowdrise campaign.)
I returned to Bulindi last October to continue my research which examines the overlap in intestinal parasites among wild primates – including the chimpanzees – local villagers and their domestic animals at Bulindi. To achieve my goal, I spent a lot of time in the villages, meeting with the local households, but of course I also went into the forest to visit the chimpanzees. Let me give you some news!
It was a real pleasure to spend time with villagers. Ilda, a young woman from the nearby town of Hoima, helped me as an assistant and translator. Local people were really interested in this scientific project – like people everywhere they are concerned about health issues – and they accepted immediately to participate. In exchange for their involvement, they’ll be informed about their parasite status and given treatments where necessary. Given the growing proximity between wild animals, humans and livestock in the Bulindi area (and throughout western Uganda generally), which creates opportunities for pathogen transmission, this research is needed. We hope that the insights gained will help inform strategies for improved public health and wildlife conservation in areas like Bulindi.
A typical village home at sunset in Bulindi (Mparangasi village)
Ilda, field assistant and translator, meeting and interviewing villagers in Bulindi.
During my visits to the villages, I could notice how villagers that participate in the project are now really committed to the protection of the forest and the chimpanzees. Although the chimpanzees continue to sometimes destroy their crops (see the picture below), most people have stopped harassing them and their perceptions towards them seem to be improving. It made me really happy and confident for the future of our project.
Chimp monitor, Tom, surveying a banana tree that has been destroyed by chimps, who have eaten the inner pith
On the chimpanzees’ side, I also had a nice time with them and made some beautiful observations. It was a great pleasure to see that the three babies born last April are all doing well. Indeed, now 6-months old, they are developing well and it is exciting to see how they can already grasp branches and suspend themselves in the trees (Watch this new video of the infants here!).
The three mothers have different personalities and interact differently with their young ones. Mirinda is an exceptional mother. She is taking care of her newborn (a female we called Maria!) but at the same time, she never neglects her older infant, Merrick, who is still young himself (not quite 3 years old). She even accepts Merrick to breastfeed sometimes and is always grooming him and interacting with him.
Mirinda with her new infant Maria and older infant, Merrick (on the right)
But Maureen’s approach to mothering is completely different. She is less protective and sometimes leaves her newborn (also a female – we are still looking for a name!) playing in branches while she sits at a distance. Consequently, her young daughter looks more resourceful compared to the two other babies born at the same time. In contrast to Mirinda, Maureen neglects her son Rohen a bit, who is the same age as Merrick. I even observed her refusing to take Rohen on her back to climb down a tree (her newborn was clinging to her belly). Rohen was crying and had to find a way to climb down alone. Mirinda, in comparison, always travels with her two infants: one on the belly and one on the back.
The last of the three mothers, Jemima (who is Mirinda’s oldest daughter) is also really interesting to watch. It was her first time to give birth (aged 11 or 12) and she has the least experience, but she is actually the most protective. Her newborn is a male who we have named Kasatu (which means “the third” since it was the third baby we observed in April). Jemima does not allow Kasatu to take any initiative. She doesn’t seem to like it when Kasatu wants to move alone on branches, and brings him back rapidly towards her, close to her chest. Moreover, she seems to build more nests during the day than the other chimps, so she can rest comfortably with her baby close to her.
Babies at 6 months! Young mother Jemima (left, with her infant son Kasatu) and her own mother, Mirinda (right, with her new infant Maria)
Just before my trip, we received another piece of great news: Leila also gave birth, probably in mid-September! Leila’s baby is female and she looks in good shape and is also very active, even though she is just a few weeks old. I didn’t get a chance to make a good video or photo of the baby but as soon as we get one, we will show you her face! It is great news to see the Bulindi chimpanzee community increasing, from 18 individuals at the start of the year to 22!
To end this post, I’d like to describe an interesting behaviour that I observed between two brothers, Moses and Aarali. Moses and Aarali are really close since their mother Olive died, when she was hit by a vehicle on the road in early 2015. They are always observed together and they sleep every night in nests close to each other. On the 7th October, some villagers called us to come to their gardens to see chimpanzees who were eating their jackfruits. When we arrived, we found Moses eating a large ripe jackfruit. Aarali was next to him, fixating all his attention on Moses and the food. He was even begging by extending his hand, palm up towards his older brother. Then, Moses quite clearly transferred some of the food to Aarali. At the end of the observation, Moses even broke a large part of the fruit and handed it directly to Aarali who then sat to better eat it! (See the video clip here). Active food sharing like this is relatively rare in wild chimpanzees. These kinds of observations are precious and raise many questions: are Bulindi chimpanzees more tolerant and ‘prosocial’ than chimpanzees from other communities? Does the close proximity to humans and the fact that the chimpanzees need to defend themselves against people promote food sharing and cohesiveness between individuals? We could even hypothesise that the Bulindi chimpanzees have survived in this highly disturbed habitat thanks to their social resilience including a propensity to cooperate and look out for one another.
Please, we need to protect these amazing chimpanzees. We still have so many things to discover about them and they still have so many things to teach us. You can help by visiting the Saving Bulindi Chimps Crowdrise campaign.
Moses sharing jackfruit with his younger brother, Aarali