Update from Bulindi: News of 3 New Babies, New Discoveries, and the Project!
Marie Cibot is a veterinarian and primatologist. For her PhD, she studied the risks associated with human–chimpanzee interactions, and evaluated chimpanzees’ behavioural flexibility in response to these risks, in the Sebitoli area of Kibale National Park, Uganda. She now works as a vet in a clinic in France and is also a research associate of Oxford Brookes University, UK. Later this year Marie will conduct a study examining overlap in the intestinal parasites of the people, primates and domestic animals at Bulindi.
In May I visited Bulindi for one month to work with Tom Sabiiti, the long-term field assistant of the Bulindi Chimpanzee & Community Project. The main goal of my visit was to get to know the chimpanzees and meet the local people at Bulindi, in preparation for my field research in October. Another reason for my trip was to train Tom in collecting behavioural data on the chimpanzees to aid the long-term monitoring of this unique population.
Tom and I worked on new datasheets designed to describe which chimps are present in the group every 30 minutes (and who is absent) as well as what they are doing (see Photo 1). This will allow us to understand more about the degree of cohesiveness of these chimpanzees. We would predict them to be highly cohesive since the Bulindi chimpanzees face some unusual challenges when moving about their home range. The close presence of humans all around the forest may influence their behaviour, making them stay together to better cope with the constant risk of meeting villagers.
Photo1: Long-term chimp monitor, Tom Sabiiti, collecting observations using the new datasheets
Tom is now used to collecting these new data and will continue to record the chimpanzees’ behaviours every day. It was a great pleasure to work with Tom in the field. As well as knowing the chimps better than anyone, he also introduced me to local community members and I met most of the villagers involved in the conservation project.
Moses Ssemahunge, the field manager of the project, also took care of me during my field period and showed me all the work done in the area since the inception of the Bulindi Community and Conservation project, one year ago. I visited the project tree nursery and saw the great involvement of local residents there, and the real benefit villagers can gain through participating. I also had the chance to discuss the project with forest owners who are really grateful for the support which the project offers for their children through paying their school fees. In return, I did not observe any tree cutting in the forest, and forest owners seemed really proud of protecting their forests. Although Moses is busy at the tree nursery, he joined us twice in the forest to follow the chimps, and crossed the rivers with success (see Photo 2)!
Photo2: Project manager Moses Ssemahunge crossing a river in the forest
Tom and I made some really interesting observations of the chimpanzees. Since the sad disappearance of the young adult male Tom last October, the Bulindi chimps have just two senior males (alpha male Sylvester and his sidekick, Murry). So, it was really encouraging to see the younger males in the community like Moses, Jack and Araali growing up and starting to hang out with the adults! One morning, we saw the youngsters had teamed up with Sylvester and Murry as they made their rounds of their territory (Watch the video of them crossing the road linking Hoima and Masindi towns.
Another day, we saw young Jack (see Photo 3) using leaves as a tool to get water! ! He stuffed some leaves into a hole on a branch to soak up the water, and then put the leaves in his mouth to drink – a behaviour known as ‘leaf sponging’. It was my first time to see that in the wild! I took a video that we will soon publish on the Bulindi YouTube channel.
Photo 3: Jack, a juvenile starting to become independent
We also found some stick tools left on the ground by the chimpanzees (see Photo 4). Indeed, the Bulindi chimps are accomplished tool users and they used these sticks to break into beehives located in the ground in order to get at the honey (for more information about this unusual behaviour, see the article written by Dr Matt McLennan.
Photo 4: Stick tools used by the chimpanzees for honey digging
One morning, we also recorded a precious observation of a helping behaviour. All the chimps were in a large fig tree. Merrick (Mirinda’s infant son; see Photo 5) was stuck on the trunk, which was far too large to allow him to climb. Then, Gerald, his juvenile elder brother, reached him using a small flexible branch. The small Merrick was extending his arm towards Gerald, making small screams of distress. Gerald caught his hand and Merrick was able to cling to his brother’s back to reach the small flexible branch, and climb up into the tree. Gerald made a real bridge for him!
Photo 5: Adult female Mirinda with her 2-year old infant son, Merrick
But the most interesting and amazing observations were certainly the arrival of not one – but three – new-born infants, all born within a few days of each other! Adult females Maureen and Mirinda each gave birth to their fourth known offspring while Mirinda’s teenage daughter Jemima became a first-time Mum! You can see Maureen’s baby daughter in the photo (see Photo 6). You can also watch this clip of all the three new babies with their proud mums. My heart was filled by joy when observing these babies who are the future of this community! I wish and hope that this beautiful project will continue to grow and allow the Bulindi chimpanzees to survive alongside their human neighbours. Thanks to all of you for your support of this project!
Photo 6: Maureen’s female baby
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