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The Females and Their Young

There are currently six adult females in the Bulindi community, though we strongly suspect there were several more at the start of the study in 2006. At that time, the Bulindi females were especially shy and kept out of sight when humans were nearby This extreme wariness made sense, of course, given the risk people can pose to their safety and particularly that of their infants. Today, the females and youngsters are still usually seen when adult males are also present. But the loss of most of their forest home in the last few years has meant they’re much more visible than they previously were – there’s simply too little forest left for them to hide anymore!

While female chimps do form close friendships with other mothers, they tend to be less social than males, often foraging alone with their children. Research in protected areas elsewhere in East Africa (for example, Gombe National Park, made famous by Jane Goodall’s pioneering studies) revealed that individual females and their families spend much of their time in their own small areas within the larger community territory. This helps them to minimise competition with other mothers over food, particularly during lean seasons.

At Bulindi, the recent, catastrophic clearance of entire forest fragments means this natural spacing system has broken down, squeezing the females and their families together in ever-shrinking thickets. We don’t yet know what effect the continuing loss of their forest has had on relationships among females within the community. They seem to get on well with one another most of the time. And, importantly, there are plenty of youngsters in the community, suggesting the females are well-nourished and healthy. It is clear that the Bulindi chimps are nowadays more cohesive than they were previously, with females usually found travelling and feeding together with the males. Spending time together offers the advantage of safety in numbers – a priority for mothers unable to escape people.

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