Sad news

March 24, 2009

We have some sad news from Sonso today, Zimba’s baby boy who was born earlier this month tragically died on the 20th March. For several days the baby was whimpering and crying and appeared to have trouble drinking. Zimba, an experienced mother, was very disturbed by this and constantly moved around to try and settle the baby. The baby was heard but not seen on the 18th, and then on the 19th Zimba was seen carrying the tiny infant’s dead body. She was seen without the body on the 20th, and it was found on one of the trails later in the day. Our site vet has conducted a preliminary autopsy but found no clear cause of death. The loss of any of our chimps is a very sad moment, especially the young ones who have a whole future ahead of them, but it is particularly devastating in this case as this was one of the very few boys to have been born into the community in recent years.

On a more cheerful note the other baby boy who was born to Melissa at the start of the year has been named Mbotella for one of our field-assistants, and the stranger female known as Stranger E has been renamed Tanja. Her two girls are called Tapura (10-12 years old) and Tamara (5-6 years old). We’ll pop some pictures and more information on them into the biography pages as soon as we get them.


Sadly snare-hunting for bush-meat is an ongoing problem in Budongo and many of the other African forest reserves. For many people in rural East Africa meat is a rare luxury that few families can afford to buy, instead opting to lay snares and traps for wild animals. Luckily, unlike some countries such as the DRC, there is very little direct hunting of primates in Uganda, but the snares set for the small antelope and forest-pigs are left unmonitored in the forest and there is no way of controlling who gets caught in them. To date 30% of adults in the Sonso community have been left permanently disfigured and disabled by snares.

Last year Amati-Stephen, one of the BCFS field-assistants, was lucky enough to witness the amazing sight of one of our alpha male Nick actually freeing another chimp (Kwera) from a snare! This incredibly rare behaviour had never been seen in the Sonso community and was a fascinating insight into the social and cognitive skills the chimps show in meeting the problem of snares (read the full story here). We see many of our chimps on a daily basis and had been curious about a number of observations where we have seen an individual who appeared to have snare type injuries less than a day old but no snare wire, or a snare which seemed tight but ‘disappeared’ after a day or two. We had assumed that they had simply got lucky and the snare had dropped off, but now a second observation of one chimp helping to free another has shed some possible light on the matter.


Night has a great playful character

On Wednesday, Night, the lively young daughter of our alpha female, trapped her hand in a snare. This is a devastatingly painful and frightening event, once caught in the loop of the snare the harder you pull to try and free yourself the more the tight nylon cuts into the skin and muscles around your wrist. Her mother Nambi immediately started screaming, and rushed over; she worried at the nylon with her teeth as the whole group gathered round watching and calling. After a few frantic minutes she managed to break through the tough nylon and we collectively breathed a sigh of relief as Night was free; a thorough search of the immediate area revealed 3 more of these nylon snares which we removed. Night is now doing well and as a fit young chimp she has a great chance of recovering completely from this traumatizing event. She was extremely fortunate that the snare she was trapped in was made of fine nylon, many of the snares are made from wire which the chimps wouldn’t be able to break through. They must then wait weeks or sometimes months before the wire drops off, usually leaving them permanently disfigured as it has cut it’s way through tendons, muscles and sometimes the whole hand or foot.


Even with experience the snares are hard to see

To try to combat the horrific injuries snares inflict we have a dedicated snare-removal team who work tirelessly each day to remove snares and other traps from the forest. Their efforts are supported by the education team who work with the residents of the local villages to explain the effects of snare hunting on the chimpanzees and other wildlife. They offer training and support for ex-hunters who agree to work on alternative methods of producing meat and income such as pig farming.  You can read more about the valuable work they do here – the team is supported by the lovely folk at Oakland Zoo and the generous public support we receive from our ‘Adopt a Chimp’ scheme. If you would like to help this invaluable work to stop the suffering of the chimpanzees and promote long-term alternative income projects in the local communities then please go to the Adopt-a-chimp page for details on how to donate.

In the mean-time it’s great to see that the chimps are playing their own part in making sure that future generations of the Sonso community never have to live with the pain and suffering inflicted by snare hunting.

A worrying find..

March 17, 2009

As we mentioned in January, the past year has been a tense time amongst our top three males. Nick the alpha was very dependent on his close allience with the old alpha Duane; when Duane died it left Nick’s position weakened and open to attack from both Zefa and Bwoba. While Nick remained alpha, the balance of power shifted back and forth over the months with no one male able to successfully overcome an alliance by the other two. Nick seemed to be honing his political skills and learning the merits of social power, but at the end of the year we saw a number of individuals with vicious bite wounds and while we didn’t see any of the actual attacks we suspected Nick of reverting to old habits and using his considerable brawn to repress any further rebellion.

In early January Bwoba was seen with a nasty cut to the finger which looked suspciciously like a bite mark – while he was seen in the following days he disappeared shortly after and has not been seen since. It isn’t unusual for some members of the group to disappear for weeks or sometimes months but this is normally a habitual behaviour and the social Bwoba had never shown any inclination to spend time away from the group in the past. 

Bwoba, the gentle giant

Bwoba, the gentle giant

Last Tuesday we found the skeleton of a large adult chimp, probably male, in the periphery of our grid system. It looks to be around 4-6 weeks old and sadly the skull shows some similarities to Bwoba’s with a flat face and blackened teeth. While we can’t be certain, it does seem probable that we have sadly lost yet another of our adult males. Bwoba was a wonderful character who despite being a huge male capable of awesome displays of power, was a popular and gentle giant who seemed to take real pleasure in playing with the young ones. His presence in the group will be missed not just by the Sonso chimps, but by all the researchers and staff amongst whom he was something of a favorite. We can only hope that in the next couple of months he will return and show our fears to be unfounded, but realistically we now have to look to a future where the Sonso chimps are left with Zefa and and Nick as the only 2 large adult males in a community of over 70.

Just a very quick update to say that we managed to sex Zimba‘s baby and it’s a boy! Fantastic news for the Sonso group as while all new infants are a great sign of a strong successful community, we have had very few boys born in the past few years.  Female chimps transfer between groups, but males stay in the community they’re born into; so the male babies born in Sonso today are literally the Sonso community of the future. Only 2 of the 12 babies born in the past 4 years have been boys (James and Klaus) but with Melissa‘s little boy and now Zimba‘s too, it’s great to get a positive glimpse of the community’s future.

The girls at Sonso really are doing us proud this year – after Gladys and Kigere arrived with their little girls over the holidays and Melissa giving birth to her boy in late January, Zimba had her baby yesterday!

all of Zimba's children are confident, even Zig with his snare injury is very friendly

always friendly (even with us!) Zig loves to play with the babies and is sure to enjoy having a new play-mate.

Zimba is one of our most experienced females and the only grandma in the community. Yesterday we saw her with the new addition to her family who we think was born in the early morning. As with human babies the umbilical cord can take a few days to drop off and interestingly Zimba had carefully wrapped it round the young infant. Chimpanzee mothers often leave the group to give birth to their babies and reappear anywhere from a few days to a few months later. It’s incredibly rare to see a baby on the day it’s born, and it’s probably Zimba’s high position in the group hierarchy that allowed her to feel comfortable exposing her precious new baby to the group at such an early stage. What ever the reason it is wonderful to see yet another addition to the Sonso community and we’re looking forward to see if the baby takes after its sensible sister Kewaya, its cheeky little brother Zak or the gentle but equally fun-loving Zig.

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