Hello from Republic of Congo! Last Friday, I arrived at Maya Maya airport in the country’s capital city of Brazzaville with Crickette Sanz, Ph.D., David Morgan, Ph.D., and fellow graduate student Ashley van Batavia (Washington University in St. Louis). For years I have wanted to study wild apes in Africa; I can’t believe that I am here!
Researcher Marrissa Milstein (second from right) will study the development of tool-using skills in young chimpanzees through the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project.
After spending a day in Brazzaville, we took a plane to the city of Ouesso, which is located in the northern region of the country. With more than 800 pounds of luggage (much of which was field supplies), we boarded a dugout canoe made from a hollowed mahogany tree trunk and headed seven hours north along Sangha River. It was the experience of a lifetime to travel up the river and be surrounded by the seemingly endless expanses of pristine forest that line the river’s edge.
By nightfall, we arrived in Bomassa, which serves as the headquarters for the Nouabalé- Ndoki National Park. Jean Robert Onononga, the project manager for the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project, warmly welcomed us and gave us a tour of the headquarters. We also had the chance to meet some of Goualougo research staff, including Sydney Ndolo, Igor Singono, and David Koni.
Ashley and I are the first American graduate students to work in the Goualougo Triangle, and we both feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to work in one of the most remote and extraordinary places on Earth to study apes. All the park officials and Goualougo staff members have been exceedingly supportive of Ashley and I joining the team, and we both look forward to building colleagues and friends here.
After a few more days of preparation, we will head to the Goualougo Triangle, where I will begin conducting a pilot study for my dissertation research on the development of tool-using skills in young chimpanzees. I will be collecting behavioral data on the Goualougo chimpanzees using a revised version of the behavioral monitoring program, an ape behavioral-research project that is ongoing at Lincoln Park Zoo’s Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes.
More to come from Congo—will write again soon!