Tinka passes away

January 25, 2010

The oldest member of our Sonso community, Tinka, sadly passed away last week of natural causes at the age of 50. He led an extraordinary life that saw dramatic changes in the forest and communities around him. Born around 1960 he lived through the rise and fall of one of the largest sawmills in Africa; the Royal Albert Hall is floored in Budongo Cynometra, and for a time the majority of the mahogany exported to Europe came out of his forest. As the forest around him shrunk, the neighboring villages approached; and as he reached his teens, the terrible political turmoil that started in the 1970s meant the human pressure on the forest increased even further. As well as the logging his community now had to deal with an increasing proliferation of snares set by bush-meat hunters. Intended for small antelope and bush-pig these wire loops trap the limbs of passing chimpanzees and are pulled taught, cutting deep into the tissue of their hands and feet. Tinka sustained not one but two terrible snare injuries that led to the near total paralysis of both of his hands. Many chimpanzees have died from minor injuries to a single limb, but Tinka defied all the odds and despite these horrific injuries he continued to play an active part in community life for many years. He developed his own unique techniques to cope with the climbing, feeding and grooming activities that fill an adult chimpanzee’s daily schedule; and seeing him slowly scale the huge trees, sometimes over 30m tall, quickly put into perspective any of the minor tribulations that as field researchers we were sometimes all too ready to give up on as impossible.

Over the years he saw the rise and fall of at least 3 alpha males and the births and deaths of many community members. The constant challenge of survival without the use of his hands was enough to keep him from ever rising within the male hierarchy, but he still maintained his position within the group. In time he developed a chronic skin complaint and eye problems that left him with a permanent squint; these left him understandably short tempered and woe betides the overly boisterous young chimp who disturbed his rest. More recently the toll of coping with his numerous disabilities at such an advanced age had started to increase, and in his final years he was often found pottering about alone, slowly making his way between sites where the fruits had fallen to the ground and he could feed in peace.

We have lost several of our adult males recently and are now in the position where the alpha male Nick and his compatriot Zefa are our elder Sonso statesmen at only 28 years old! Fortunately we still have a thriving older female community with Nambi (49), Zimba (42) and Ruhara (42), all of whom have children and some grandchildren growing up at Sonso.

We will all miss Tinka, despite (or perhaps because of) his ornery nature, he was a memorable and much loved character in the Sonso community. His indomitable spirit was an unfailing source of inspiration about the possibilities that are always there if you try hard enough – or are simply too stubborn to recognize the obstacles in the way! RIP Tinka – I’m sure where ever you are there’ll be a good scratching post near-by.

Happy New Year!

January 19, 2010

Hello and Happy New Year from everyone at Sonso!  The end of last year saw a number of big changes for us: firstly our director Dr. Fred Babweteera was promoted to the post of Conservation Coordinator for African Projects at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland! A big congratulations to Fred and while we’ll all be extremely sad to see him move on from the position of director which he’s taken on for many years – it’s a fantastic opportunity for him and very nice to know that as RZSS are our main funder he’ll still be very much involved in our work in Budongo.

Our chimpanzee friends have been making changes too, with a marked shift in their range down to the far South-East of the forest, well off the existing grid-system (which makes trying to follow them on a day-to-day basis particularly interesting!). The forest quickly becomes a dense, damp, swampy tangle of climbers and roots down there and with little in fruit there seemed no clear motivation for their move – aside of course from watching the foolish bipeds with their soft hairless skin struggle through spiky wet undergrowth with it’s never ending supply of army ants… However, not long after this shift in territory they started to hunt again with regular success. As usual it was the black and white colobus monkeys that were their targets and while the young males were the main hunters, it seemed as though everyone was keen to get their share of the meat. It’s not clear yet whether or not the move represents a permanent shift in their territory (possibly following the pressure from their neighbors to the north), or just one of the regular fluctuations in their range, but we’ll be closely monitoring the situation over the next few months to find out.

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