A Birth in Sonso

February 16, 2014

Harriet had a baby girl! Pictured here (in slightly fuzzy video stills) at 1 week and 3 months. She has Harriet’s pug nose! Even at 3 months, she is very vocal and constantly cooing to her mom and siblings.

Video still by Brittany Fallon.

Video still by Brittany Fallon.

We name infants according to the first letter of the mother’s name, so in April we’ll be seeking female ‘H’ names for her naming party. Harriet has 4 other children: Hawa (m, 21), Helen (f, 13), Honey (f, 8), and Heri (f, 5).

Video still by Brittany Fallon.

Video still by Brittany Fallon.

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!

The rains have returned to the forest and as we walk in the steamy quiet mornings we’re accompanied by the regular crash of trees and branches that, having died off in the dry season, are now waterlogged and too heavy to stand and come down in a tangle over the forest trails. It was with mixed emotions last week that we caught our first glimpse of Juliet’s new baby. We’ve known she was pregnant for some time and were overjoyed to finally see the new addition to our Sonso family, but we also had serious misgivings, remembering that her first baby son was killed by the community.

The introduction of a new baby is a critical period for any female chimpanzee, they usually leave the community to give birth and may not return for weeks or even months. When they do it creates great excitement and every one is desperate to see and smell and touch both the female and the new infant. At the same time these introductions can become aggressive and infanticides can happen within a community. With Juliet’s first baby son Nick and the female Nambi’s eldest daughter Nora were the leaders, with Nick attacking the mother and Nora tearing the baby away from her, both then cannibalising the body. It’s not clear why it happened; we have had several previous cases at Sonso, and this time we suspected that as Juliet had spent long periods away from the main group then the father may not have been a Sonso male. It’s also possible that competition between the females, for whom the new infants represent competition for their own offspring, could play an important role. This time we suspected that the father may be Zefa, the Sonso beta male, who took Juliet away on a long censorship at about the time she conceived; and we hoped desperately that this might work in her favour. In the end both our concerns and our hopes were justified in their own fashion.

We found her resting in a ficus tree in the morning, and for several hours it was only when the young male Fred approached that we had a moment’s concern. He was curious at first, but seemed far more interested in continuing his morning feeding, and they soon both settled down in the same tree.

everyone wanted to see the tiny infantNot long after this we heard the calls of a larger group approaching, and, more worryingly, recognised the calls of Nick and Nambi amongst them. In the end it was Simon who started the attack, climbing up and chasing her though the canopy. We don’t know why, he had no obvious motive and usually appears fond of the community’s infants, regularly playing with them with great care. Soon Nick joined him in the chase and eventually the exhausted mother fled down the the ground, by this time others had arrived and crowded round, desperate to touch and smell mother and baby.

As Nick approached again and started to display, shaking and snapping branches. He attacked her five times, biting, shaking and kicking her while she screamed and desperately tried to shelter her baby as he tried to tear it away. However, assistance came to her from an unexpected quarter; as we watched the group separated into those openly supporting Nick and those on the sidelines, one voice was clearly barking in support of Juliet: Nambi. Nambi, who has been the dominant female in the group for many years, and who has been involved in her fair share of infanticides including that of Juliet’s first son.  But Nambi is now over 50years old, and as each year passes without her falling pregnant it seems less and less likely that she will have any further infants of her own. Perhaps that influenced her choice to support the new mother, barking at Nick and sitting between him and Juliet.

Nambi sits next to Nick

When Zimba arrived, another of our dominant females known for her aggression towards the young infants of new mothers, and who may well herself be pregnant, Nambi actually embraced her, seemingly to try and calm her down before she approached Juliet. What ever her reasons Nambi bought Juliet the time she needed, and she escaped back into the trees followed by Hawa who sat with her, grooming her quietly. The rest of the group waited below, occasionally climbing up, but with no further serious challenges they eventually drifted away, leaving her to sit and gently groom her baby. As we left them both seemed in relatively good health, there was blood splashed on the ground after the fight but no sign of serious injuries. Not surprisingly we haven’t seen mother or infant since, and it may be some time before she takes another chance at introducing her precious charge into the group again. Hopefully they have now surveyed the first critical hurdle and the next time she will finally receive the warm welcome that is so long overdue.

A softer side to Nick?

January 25, 2011

Nick, the Sonso alpha male has never been known for his steady or diplomatic nature – he rose to the top as a young powerful male with a definite bent for brawn over brains. The deaths of several of our large males in recent years left the Sonso males in a weakened and vulnerable position which seemed to be associated with a worrying trend of the neighbouring group encroaching ever deeper into Sonso territory. More recently, as the crop of young subadult males (Musa, Kato, Squibs and co.) have developed into strong mature adults, this situation seems to have eased; and Nick in particular seems more comfortable with his position at the top of the hierachy. Still we were surprised to see him revealing a much softer side recently when, following the death of a female chimp in a trap, a young orphaned infant turned up in the group. We suspect that, sadly, the female was the Sonso chimp Sabrina, and that it is her youngest daughter Sharlot that has now been left to fend for herself at only a few years old. The little chimp appears to prefer the company of the big males, and is regularly seen following Squibs and Zalu, but perhaps her most surprising choice of companion though is Nick, who treats her with a gentle tolerance we didn’t know he had in him. Other Sonso chimps have been orphaned at a young age and gone on to survive – Zed and Rachel are two – but both of these had older brothers who cared for them. At the moment we can only wait and see with our fingers crossed if, after her difficult start, she will be one of the lucky individuals who manage to win through to adolescence and beyond. She certainly seems to have started at the top when choosing her new friends!

Sad news

March 24, 2009

We have some sad news from Sonso today, Zimba’s baby boy who was born earlier this month tragically died on the 20th March. For several days the baby was whimpering and crying and appeared to have trouble drinking. Zimba, an experienced mother, was very disturbed by this and constantly moved around to try and settle the baby. The baby was heard but not seen on the 18th, and then on the 19th Zimba was seen carrying the tiny infant’s dead body. She was seen without the body on the 20th, and it was found on one of the trails later in the day. Our site vet has conducted a preliminary autopsy but found no clear cause of death. The loss of any of our chimps is a very sad moment, especially the young ones who have a whole future ahead of them, but it is particularly devastating in this case as this was one of the very few boys to have been born into the community in recent years.

On a more cheerful note the other baby boy who was born to Melissa at the start of the year has been named Mbotella for one of our field-assistants, and the stranger female known as Stranger E has been renamed Tanja. Her two girls are called Tapura (10-12 years old) and Tamara (5-6 years old). We’ll pop some pictures and more information on them into the biography pages as soon as we get them.

%d bloggers like this: