Sonso in the news!

May 15, 2010

For a great review of some of the fascinating work into the wonderful world of chimpanzee vocal communication check out ‘Talking Chimp to Chimp’ in April’s edition of Science magazine! Big congratulations to Roman, Cathy and all of the staff and researchers at camp who are helping us to gain an insight into the rich social tapestry of chimpanzee life.

Science 2 April 2010: Vol. 328. no. 5974, pp. 36 – 37 click here to go to the journal.

Sonso generation 2.0

May 15, 2010

This year the Budongo Conservation Field Station celebrates its 20th anniversary – an amazing opportunity to remember and celebrate the research and friendships built up over 20 years of field work; but also a time to look to the future. One of the effects of having researchers around for over 20 years is that now we have a generation of young chimpanzees who were born to mothers already habituated to our presence and who have never known anything unusual about being followed around by these odd, hairless, bipedal apes, who are forever tripping over in the forest and dragging odd looking bags and boxes around with them. While on the one hand this level of comfort with us is a great opportunity to observe chimpanzee behaviour with a minimal amount of disturbance; on the other hand we have to recognize that the behaviour we observe may well be affected by that level of habituation.

Zig having a rest on the trail with Field assistant Amati Stephen

A couple of our youngsters have started to take a distinct interest in us: Zig – a young male with a badly snared hand is much smaller than his peers but quickly learned that he could avoid a challenge by even the biggest males by sitting down next to the researchers; Night, the confident, and rather spoiled, young daughter of the dominant female has a fascination with all things shiny – in my case a blue water bottle that I used to keep on my backpack. This progressed from covetous glances, to sliding silently down a climber head first – mission impossible style – behind me just to try and get a closer look at it! At Sonso we have always had a policy of not responding to chimpanzee behaviour directed towards us, as much as we sometimes feel a part of Sonso community life, we always remember that these chimpanzees are wild animals and we’re there to observer their natural behaviour – no one wants to affect or compromise that in anyway. Unusually, when BCFS was set up, the decision was taken not to habituate the animals using food; this meant that it took longer to habituate the community; but, along with the policy of non-response, it has meant that we have a research site where the majority of chimpanzees are not only very comfortable around us but also have no interest in us – the perfect situation for field researchers!

In general the youngsters go through a brief phase of trying to get us to react – jumping on branches just above our heads or drumming on the ground in front of us – but they usually learn that nothing very interesting is going to come out of it and move back to their much more interesting chimpanzee family and friends. However, only last month Night progressed to actually stealing someone’s equipment jar, unscrewing the lid (despite never having come across anything with a screw lid before!) and investigating the plastic pipettes inside. A definite wake-up call that we can never take for-granted the reactions of these highly intelligent apes – and, that over the next 20 years we will have to be just as careful in our decisions and research to make sure that, like their parents, the Sonso generation 2.0 grows up in a protected, healthy and above all natural chimpanzee environment.

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