A day with chimps

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January 7th 2014
Published: June 16th 2017
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Today we spent the whole day with the chimpanzees at Kanyanchu in Kibale National Forest. This area is dedicated to habituating chimps for tourism. It takes 5 – 10 years for chimps to get used to humans being close by and right now there is only one colony in this area that is habituated. We arrived just before 7am and were able to observe this group waking up and moving out of their nests, stretching, doing their morning grooming in the lower canopy, the odd one taking a dump or urinating. There is not much chatter among them at this time of day. They get much more vocal as the day goes on.

Then they start coming down out of the trees which is an awesome sight to see. They are so incredibly casual about dropping from limp to limp, getting lower and lower and then climbing or simply sliding down the remaining trunk. Once on the ground, they eat more; do some hooting and howling to other chimps in the area. According to the rangers who accompanied us, they are letting one another know what food is available. Chimps are primarily vegetarian, eating leaves and fruit when available but they have been known to kill Colobus monkeys for food.

Because we were with them the whole day, we moved when they moved and stopped when they stopped for as long as they stayed in one place. This varied from a few minutes to a few hours. As the day went on you could start to recognize who was who by a marking, like a bump between the eyes, graying coat, one had broken its arm as a youngster so walked with a bend in his right wrist area etc. We ended up being with the same group of 5- 6 males and 2-3 females for most of the day. Once in a while 1 or 2 would separate from the group and disappear for a few hours and then return later in the day.

Our group had the alpha male and it was really interesting to see how the other males kowtowed to him. They would approach him and make a low hooting sound which communicated to him that they recognized his superiority to them. He would grunt and that was their cue that they were ok to hang around. Interestingly, the females did not display this behavior; they simply came and went as they chose.

We had one female in the group who was in heat and making a display of it to attract any male. It takes about 20 times for a female to become pregnant so she has her work cut out for her and we were told a male can only copulate once a day. She will mate with as many males as possible which makes work for the researchers, once the baby is born, to figure out who the father is. They collect droppings and do DNA testing to figure this out.

We only saw a couple of babies up in the canopy with their mothers.

We had one stop with the group that lasted about 3 hours. During this time, the chimps groomed each other, took naps, did some more grooming and basically lazed away the day. Other tour groups just coming in for a 2 hour visit joined us and at one point one gentleman got too close and everyone in the chimp group stood up, screaming and almost waving their fists in the air to warn him off. We all were startled by this outburst and I am guessing he practically had a heart attack. The rangers were up on their feet and at the ready to intervene if needed. They all carry guns, although I assume they would first shoot in the air if the chimps got more aggressive. I hate to think that a chimp would suffer because of a stupid human trick. It wasn't like we weren't close. We were in many cases as close as 15 feet from any one or two of them!

By about 4pm the chimps had moved back up into the trees to eat and may or may not come down so we hiked back out and headed back into town. Just as we were heading back we heard a chimp screeching and then falling from high up in the canopy. It fell fast and was groping for vines and branches as it fell but just couldn't catch hold. It hit the forest floor and must have been ok because the guides did not seem concerned about it. The guides speculated that she may have simply misjudged a leap from one branch to another or was pushed by another chimp in a skirmish of some kind.

We moved from the Rwenzori View Guest House to the Duchess, which is in town. Very nice hotel only about 1 year old run by a Dutch couple. The room was really nicely done, good beds, good pillows and the nicest bathroom we have had so far complete with Dutch motif on the toilet seat and toilet paper cover. Food was really good as well. This will get a very good review on Trip Advisor.

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