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Thursday, August 19, 2010
I recently finished a serving of easy mac. Although prep time was slightly longer since I had to use a small kerosene stove (there is no microwave here in Gombe), it was definitely worth the wait and extremely delicious.
Since I am always thinking about food, daydreaming for me and observing the chimps eat all day, I thought I would write a blog about this favorite pastime of ours. I’m not sure if it’s more in the forest or more in my head, but sometimes as I’m walking around I’ll get a whiff of the air and be reminded of different foods, like bubble gum, basil, broccoli cheddar soup, mac n’ cheese and crayons (I guess those are food if you’re 3 years and under).
This can be a springboard for craving different foods I’m missing, but I also think of my favorite foods and even have random cravings (e.g. Mexican fast food) while I watch the chimps eat. My two favorites that I’m missing are definitely Chicago-style deep-dish pizza and cereal. The food is great here, but being away for a six-month field season has a strange way of making me fantasize about the aisle in the grocery store that is entirely dedicated to cereal.
There are a few things I don’t understand when it comes to food and chimpanzees. First, how do they know where the food is? It’s amazing to watch the mother chimpanzees stare off into the distance searching and/or trying to remember where there’s a tree with ripe fruit. Some new fruits are starting to grow right now, including my favorite here, mangos. And from time to time the chimpanzees will go on a “scouting” walk to check out the up-and-coming fruit trees and eat any available fruit along the way.
Recently, I spent four days watching Fanni. She spent a few hours one day “scouting” for food, but the rest of the time she just seemed to know where it already was. During this time her diet consisted mainly of palm nuts, and while some trees can act as “hot spots,” Fanni visited numerous other palm nut trees only once. From the ground it can be very difficult for me to predict which palm nut trees have fruit and which do not. I’m always wondering what the chimps cue in on when they’re staring at trees from afar—if it’s the smell of a tree, the color of the leaves or some other cue that draws them in. The staring and remembering, combined with appears to be a high rate of success at finding food, with few errors along the way, is a very impressive sight.
The second thing I don’t understand is how they eat so much! Of the 12 hours during the day in which the chimpanzees are active, they spend about half that time engaging in foraging behavior. This is drastically different from humans; I know I probably spend no more than three hours foraging (but I guess that entire aisle of cereal at the grocery store helps to cut down on search and prep time).
Despite the fact that they spend more time searching for food, they still pack a ton of it away in their bellies. To help illustrate this, I will say that during one day of observing Fanni, I collected a total of seven “samples” from her.
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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