Searching High and Low for Chimpanzees

Thursday, June 9, 2011 - 11:03am

In his latest blog entry, Dr. Deus Mjungu, Gombe Stream Research Center’s director of chimpanzee research, writes of a particularly strenuous day tracking the chimpanzees of Gombe National Park.

Each day, we typically target one individual chimpanzee who has not been followed recently and track him or her for the entire day.

A nest-to-nest follow is the best way to track chimpanzees. However, on May 31, we began our day by searching for the chimps in the forest after they had left their nests. During this time of year, food is sparsely distributed, so searching for chimps to follow requires traversing up and down several valleys.

On this particular day, we were searching for young females. We ended up finding and following two females and one male from the Kasekela chimpanzee community: Flirt, Nasa and Ferdinand. We first spotted them feeding on fruits and leaves on the edge of their territorial range.

Ferdinand left the group first, followed by Flirt and then Nasa. The three chimps then encountered two males and one female from the neighboring Mitumba chimpanzee community. Once the Kasakela chimps were spotted, the Mitumba males displayed at and chased them. Eventually we lost sight of all the chimps.

Until recently, the Mitumba chimp community has been weak. While strong chimpanzee groups will defend the edges of their territory from other chimpanzees, the Mitumba chimps have avoided the Kasekela chimps on the edge of their community’s boundary. This recent event suggests that the Mitumba community is slowly regaining its power and confidence.

Meanwhile, we continued to search for the Kasekela chimps for five hours. Eventually, I decided to halt my search and leave behind our field assistants to continue. Though the field assistants did not spot the chimps observed earlier, luckily, later on in the day, the field assistants found and watched Jiffy and Sifa nest for the night. Now that we know where to find Jiffy and Sifa in the morning, we will have a good start tomorrow.

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