Kalema has been a familiar face to many of the researchers and staff on the chimpanzee team here in Budongo. Around from the earliest days of the project she’s easily recognized from her badly disfigured hand, the result of an old snare injury, or the unusually pointy head that she appears to have passed on to all of her children – leading to them being affectionately named the ‘coneheads’..


At 33-years old she’s had three children: Bahati her eldest daughter who emigrated to our Waibira group, Kumi her middle daughter who recently emigrated too, although we’ve yet to work out where, and Klaus, her youngest son who, as the apple of his mother’s watchful eye, constantly gets himself into scraps and scrapes which she frantically smooths over for him. As Klaus just turned 6, it was about time that they had a new arrival in the family but sadly this just hasn’t been our year for baby chimps, and following the losses of both Oakland and Nora’s babies – Kalema also lost her new infant, apparently to natural causes. To add to our worries this had clearly been a difficult birth and Kalema was left with a prolapsed uterus – a potentially life threatening situation. A natural risk of childbirth there was nothing for us to do but monitor her carefully and keep our fingers crossed that Kalema would battle through. Now after a couple of nervous weeks we can at last report that she seems to have turned a corner, and despite needing a little more rest than usual is getting back to her daily routine.

Bahati’s new addition

Maybe our luck is starting to turn as Bahati (who’s name means Luck in Swahili) has just made her a grandma! We’re keeping every set of fingers and toes crossed in the forest that our new mother lives up to her name – and gives us our first Waibira baby born to a fully habituated female. If it’s a little girl perhaps she’ll emigrate back to her grandmother’s community one day!


New kids on the block..

September 12, 2012

We see lots of changes over the years at Budongo: births and deaths, immigrations and emigrations. One of the most exciting parts of now having two neighbouring groups is that we can start to see some of those changes unfolding. Female chimpanzees emigrate to another community when they reach sexual maturity (somewhere between 13-15years old), there are a few, such as Kewaya, who stay in their natal community but these are rare exceptions. Usually once a young female has started to have the regular cycles of her sexual swelling she’ll also start to disappear off for a few days, weeks, and eventually months at a time. This year Katia, Janet and Kumi all disappeared for longer trips and so far only Katia has made it back to us. Hopefully Janet and Kumi are settling into new groups somewhere, they’re on the young side to immigrate but they were both always fairly precocious girls who started cycling early and had the attitude to match.

On the other side of it we see new faces popping up in Sonso – recently a fluffy young girl who can’t be more than 11 or 12 years old has become a regular visitor and seems to be settling in for the time being. She seems to have buddied up with Simon who can usually be found grooming her for long periods of time in the swamps to the south. Excitingly a couple of weeks ago, when the big fig that stands tall over camp came into fruit another new face cropped up – this one seemed half familiar to us and we realised that while we don’t know her she is the spitting image of several of our Waibira females.. Perhaps as Nora and Bahati went from Sonso up into Waibira, we’ll now start to see some of our Waibira girls comes south-west into Sonso. Kipepeo and Rachna are our best bets for young girls at the right age to immigrate – but with the results to the DNA analyses that the team have worked hard to get now coming through, we’ll hopefully be able to even check out individuals who we haven’t yet met.

our fluffy young visitor who looks a lot like Pascal

are the Waibira girls starting to come to Sonso?

Frank has always been a troublemaker, from a young age preferring to hang out with his older brother Fred and the bigger boys, you could be sure anyone playing with him would end up getting more than they bargained for. His stocky frame and characteristic swagger are easily recognised especially as he’s the only young male chimp who managed to grow his hair into a mowhawk.. His image was almost complete with a rakish scar he pick up in a recent fight (giving him the temporary nickname of Frankenstein..) but there’s always been one big problem – his voice.

When all the other bigger males answer the distinctive loud long pant hoot call of the alpha male Nick, a chorus of calls echos through the canopy. Chimpanzee communities are rarely all in the same place at the same time, and different groups can be spread out over kilometers of their range. Pant hoots are the long distance vocalisations that the different parties can use to keep track of who is where in the forest and perhaps communicate information about things like where a particularly tasty fig is in fruit. The calls are also group specific, pant hoots from one community sound quite different to those of their neighbours – a useful way for them to keep tabs on each other.

When the Sonso pant hoots are ringing through the trees, as often as not there is one very squeaky little addition: Frank; definitely not doing much for his ‘big-man’ image. Still as he’s growing he’s getting more lung power and this morning when we thought we heard Fred calling it turned out to be Frank. With the last pieces of the puzzle coming together he’s well on his way into adulthood and one of our field-assistants’ top picks for the future alpha male – knowing Frank it’ll be an eventful journey; watch this space..

No matter how you look at it Kwezi is a mummy’s boy. At 16-years old he should be a fully fledged young adult male and at the point where most chimpanzees have been independent from their mothers for 6-7 years – not Kwezi though, on the rare occasion that he strays out of Kwera’s sight he’s clearly quite anxious to be back lounging about with mum. It’s not as though Kwera is overly protective, if it were up to her the apron strings would have been cut a long time ago! Her other two daughters are bright, active, independent young things, but for some reason Kwezi’s just not ready to fly the family nest. Despite this he’s clearly very keen on trying to act the part of the ‘big man’ in the family, and a couple of days ago when all the bigger boys (and some of the smaller ones that have just decided to grown up a little faster!) were off in the swamp he found himself surrounded by a veritable harem of females. Janie, Kalema, Kutu and Kwera had all decided it was far too hot to travel and they were going to hang out in the shady Mulberry trees around camp – the only other boys around were Kasigwa and Klaus, both little infants more interested in the possibilities for play than in the group social dynamics. Seeing a prize opportunity to strut his stuff Kwezi puffs out his chest, puffs up his hair and stretches out on the path to be groomed by his ‘adoring’ audience of ladies…

Initially fairly tolerant the girls give him the once over but he decides that he’s not getting his full dues and starts to display – slapping the ground, dragging branches, and generally making a nuisance of himself. That, unfortunately for him, is about as far as he got – while all adult and some sub-adult males are normally dominant to the adult females, no-one was convinced by his attempts to pass himself off as a contender. Janie (who’s been known on occasion to send our alpha male packing and certainly wasn’t going to take any nonsense from this upstart teen) promptly turns around, stands her ground and shouts right back at him. Kwera realizes something’s about to go rather wrong for her son and steps in, shaking a sapling and moving between Kwezi and Janie.

Kwera (center) grabs a sapling and intervenes (despite having baby Karibu on her back) - Kwezi is already out of shot...

At this point Kwezi could have a) stepped up and asserted himself with Janie, or b) at least supported his mother who’s doing his job for him, but unfortunately, and true to form, he chooses option c) run away as fast as you can and wait until your mum has it all sorted out for you..

One of these days he’ll make the break from mum but at this point it’s looking more likely that his baby sister Karo is going to leave the family unit first!

Although less glamourous than many people’s idea of what working with wild chimpanzees entails we’re all very excited that we now have our first fecal samples from the Waibira chimpanzees. These samples will allow us to run DNA analysis which will start to let us know, not only how the Waibira chimps fit into the overall scheme of chimpanzee distribution in East Africa, but also how they are related to our Sonso chimpanzees. From the start of the project we’ve seen some very familiar characteristics cropping up – Waibira’s Hamish is the spitting image of Sonso’s Simon, and the Waibira females’ little white beards are very reminiscent of Sonso chimp Rachel’s. Now we have our first sample from the adult Waibira female Arua (mother to the curious little Andrua); she bears a striking resemblance to the recently immigrated Sonso female Oakland – could this be her daughter? sister? Questions about female immigration are notoriously hard to unravel, and while it will take time to get the results through we’re all really looking forward to starting to be able to tease apart the tangle of family relationships that weave their way through our two communities.

It's hard to pose glamourously while holding a tube of chimp feces but Joe does his best..

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