Zimba, one of our highly successful female chimpanzees is notorious for being particularly ‘popular’ with all of the Sonso males. When she’s in oestrus there’s little point trying to get much in the way of work done with the boys, as it seems like every male chimp in the forest is focused entirely on trying to spend as much time as possible with her, quite literally queuing up for her attention! In this our youngest  chimps are no exception, and yesterday Klauce, despite being only 4-years old, decided that he too wanted to join the other would-be suitors. Kalema, his mother, had other ideas though and was much happier feeding in the mango tree than bothering with all the chaos surrounding Zimba.

This left Klauce with a dilemma – how could he follow the other bigger boys on his little legs without being left behind? His ingenious solution was to jump on the back of Zak – a young 8-year old who is a regular wrestling buddy of his – and demand to be carried along. Poor Zak couldn’t quite work out what was going on – but tried his best to struggle along. They managed this way for quite some time before Kalema noticed what was going on and promptly went and retrieved Klaus and, brooking no disagreement, firmly returned him to the mango tree. He’ll just have to wait until he’s a little older – but when he is our girls will have to watch out!

Zak tries his best with his new addition...

two days later…(sometimes it takes a little while to get the internet running in camp so here’s a wee update..) Zimba has been resting in a tree for the morning and all of the big males have been waiting attentively for her to come down; as she starts to climb to the ground, Nick and Zefa display, shaking branches and slapping the ground as a wave of excitement runs through the group. Despite the impressive displays of the large adult males, Klauce is once again at the front of the queue and, imperiously barging past the alpha and beta males, he not only demands to copulate with Zimba – who obliges him – but then as Nick approaches to do the same, he screams furiously at the massive shape above him. Fortunately, his mother Kalema has a slightly better grasp of the niceties of chimpanzee social protocol and rushes over to scoop him up while frantically pant-grunting a submissive ‘apology’ to the big male. Finally realising that discretion may be the better part of valour in this instance, Klauce leaves Zimba in peace – for now..

In January an ambitious new project started at Sonso: the habituation of a second community of chimpanzees. Habituation of the Sonso chimpanzees began over 20 years ago and we now have a generation of young chimps born to habituated mothers and for whom seeing researchers tangled in all sorts of odd equipment, tripping over their cables and struggling to follow them around the forest is no more odd than encountering any of the other forest primates! Habituation is a slow process though; it took over a year just to start to recognize and identify the core males in the Sonso community, and 20 years later we still have peripheral females who are not fully habituated to our presence.

Our first glimpse of Nora with her new family

This time round we had the advantage that even the neighbouring chimpanzees have encountered us occasionally and so we were not a completely new presence in their environment, but it was always going to be a matter of years rather than months in which we measure our progress. January and February were spent conducting an intensive survey of the forest around the Sonso communities range and finally the group to the north-east was chosen. Now known as the Waibira South community, work has been progressing well and we’ve been managing to track and follow the chimps for several hours a day – something we didn’t expect to happen for many months.

Recently we had a little help in this from an old friend: Nora – the daughter of our Sonso alpha female Nambi, who as a young adult emigrated away from the community (as most female chimpanzees do when they reach sexual maturity). We found a group of WS males in the morning and sat under their feeding tree as, after their enthusiastic pant-hooting, more individuals joined – one of these was a young adult female who as she swung into view turned to look down at us, I’m not sure who was more surprised as we seemed to simultaneously recognise each other! Nora looks happy and healthy with her new family, and we’re sure she had an influence on the others who seemed more relaxed and spent most of the day with us.

In the afternoon she let the rest of her group move ahead and sat with us on the transect, at first we waited, thinking that she would move on with the WS chimps and we could follow her; but she continued to wait and wait with us, and eventually it dawned on us that perhaps, seeing us there, she thought that the Sonso chimpanzees (and her mother, brother, and sister) were close by. In the end she moved on, but before we lost her in a thicket she had definitely been heading away from the WS territory and towards her old Sonso stomping grounds. We’ll be keeping an eye out for her in the future, and are waiting to see if we also bump into Bahati (Kalema’s oldest daughter) who left Sonso at the same time.

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