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Thursday, December 17, 2009
I’m now in Gombe, which I’m finding very difficult to compare to Serengeti. Gombe is gorgeous, although it’s way more compact and there’s much less biodiversity. In the way of animals, I have only seen insects, toads and baboons down near camp. There are very few birds here because they can’t really lay eggs, as the chimpanzees would easily find them and feast on them.
I was able to go hiking up the rift this morning to go “chimping,” which means hiking up a steep rift through forest for about an hour-and-a-half until we reach the chimps. Every hike is led by a field guide, who most of the time doubles as a researcher, collecting data for Lincoln Park Zoo behavior and health projects. Our guide, Matendo, has worked with the project for many years now and can easily identify each chimp by name on sight.
Even though Gombe is a relatively small National Park, it would be virtually impossible to leave the chimpanzees in the middle of the day and still be able to find them quickly the next. Therefore, the field guides follow the chimpanzee groups until they nest in the evening at around 6 p.m. This way, they know to go to the same spot in the morning—around 6 a.m.—to “unnest” them and follow them for the rest of the day. Being a field researcher takes a lot of dedication, patience and, above all, a mighty interest in chimpanzees.
As we left, Matendo radioed the researchers who had unnested the chimps this morning so we could find them easily. We hiked up the steep rift and before long heard chimpanzee screams. We knew they were nearby!
Ten minutes longer, we found ourselves surrounded by chimpanzees. They are so habituated that they will get within feet of you, sometimes without you even noticing. It becomes difficult to maintain a 10-meter distance, as is the park’s policy, and we were constantly moving to keep a barrier between the chimps and ourselves.
I’ve attached a picture of young Barazoa, just before he starts to display at us by stamping his feet on the branches and shaking them. (This is ridiculously cute since it’s obvious he is trying to be like the big males he’s seen display.) Park rules say we can only be near the chimps for an hour to minimize infectious-disease transmission. So we headed back down the rift. We plan on going back up the rift tomorrow. I’m very much looking forward to it.
Gombe Field Diaries
Lincoln Park Zoo is partnering with the Jane Goodall Institute to study and conserve chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Gombe National Park, the site of Jane Goodall’s groundbreaking research. Our Gombe field diaries feature updates as scientists monitor chimpanzee health, study ape behavior and experience life in Gombe.
As director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, Lonsdorf leads Lincoln Park Zoo efforts in Gombe National Park.
Rachel Santymire, Ph.D.
An endocrinologist in the Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology, Santymire studies stress and reproduction in Gombe's chipmanzees.
A graduate student in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago, Matt is studying how levels of play in Gombe¹s chimpanzees influence stress, development and reproductive success.
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