On the 25th of June our resident vet, Tonny, received a phone call about a chimp caught in a mantrap in a village near our forest. Outside of the territory of our Sonso group it was almost certainly from the Rwensama forest fragment on the road to Hoima. Mantraps are hugely powerful spring loaded clamps and inflict the most horrific damage – the young female was found with her right leg trapped and screaming in agony. She was clearly in great pain and unlikely to survive long without intervention so the team swung into action. An expert in anesthetizing wild animals travelled up from the capital Kampala that day and early the next morning the chimp was darted and the trap removed. She had sustained a nasty compound fracture of the right tibia and with such a severe injury the only option with a chance of survival was amputation. The chimp was taken down to specialist facilities in Entebbe where a successful operation took place. She is now recovering nicely and in a few weeks will be released back into her forest where she can rejoin her community. Congratulations to the whole team for another fanastic rescue – to read more about snares and our snare removal program, click here.

Carefully crated up for the trip to Entebbe (photo T. Kidega)

Carefully crated up for the trip to Entebbe (photo T. Kidega)

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Rafia – A Salty Snack

July 15, 2009

For many years we have watched the chimps here in Budongo feed on the decaying pith of the Rafia palms in the forest. It can take days of chewing to break through the outer bark, and to our eyes the handfuls of soft stringy mush from the core didn’t really seem worth the effort!

Zig squeezes his brother Zak out of the hole in the rafia

Zig squeezes his brother Zak out of the hole in the rafia

The chimps clearly disagree though, and once they have broken through spend hours feeding with obvious relish. The hole often only allows one or two chimps to squeeze their hands in and access is hotly contested with fights, begging and temper tantrums (from the losers) a regular occurrence.

Now a recent study has revealed that the pith is particularly high in sodium content – significantly more so than in the fruits and bark that make up the majority of the chimps diet. The chimps chew on the salty pith and then spit the remaining solid wadge of fibers back out. Analysis of the leftover wadges showed that the salt levels had decreased significantly indicating that the chimps were injesting the salt.

Full details on the research are available in the journal PLoS ONE: Decaying Raphia fariniferna Palm Trees Provide a Source of Sodium for Wild Chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest, Uganda. Reynolds et al. July 10th 2009.

So after a very quiet few weeks things have been heating up at Sonso as two of our adult females came into oestrus. The majority of the females in our community have young babies, a great sign of hope for the community, but it does mean that there’s not a lot of available skirt for the boys to chase after.. Chimps nurse and carry their infants for up to 5 years and won’t become fertile during this time. Tanja and Harriet both have 4 year old infants who are being weaned at the moment and have just started their first real fertile period – easily seen by the huge vaginal swellings they are both sporting. Our alpha male Nick seemed to have a particular fondness for Tanja and they have already disappeared for a couple of days together. Harriet seems more interested in some of the younger males like Musa and in particular Squibs. This might have been rather unfortunate for Squibs who was seen with serious injuries that bore all the hallmarks of an attack by Nick (deep bite marks on the back). After this while Harriet continued to show interest, his ardor had definitely cooled off!

Following suit, two of the older sub-adult females, Nora and Rachel, also both starting showing small swellings which caused plenty of interest among the younger males. Nora is now of the age where she would normally emigrate to another community but as the alpha female’s daughter she enjoys a dominant position in her home group and now that she is receiving serious interest from the adult males this might further reduce her incentive for moving to another group.

Otherwise the unseasonal rain continues to put a dampner on the behaviour of both the chimps and the researchers.. hopefully with the return of the sunshine some of the fruiting trees in the forest might also start to finally ripen and perk everyone back up again.

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