From the field!
March 2023, David Mezsaros
An Issa chimpanzee with a duiker carcass
(photo: A. Crunchant/GMERC
Last month (Jan 2023), on an afternoon shift with seven male chimpanzees, I was witness two chimpanzee behaviours that I long hoped to observe, but to that point, had only read about: hunting and algae fishing.
Shortly after my shift began with Simon (the project leader for chimpanzees), a party of 7 males (Waiti, Elisha, Sanaa, and Samaki, and three subadult males, Kukulon, Uyoga, Bingwa) began to travel single file through a thick forest boarding the edge of a river. Abruptly, Waiti and Samaki took off and I saw the tail of a blue duiker dash out from the understory. A hunt was on! I had read about chimpanzee hunting as an undergraduate but never thought I’d be a part of a hunt!
As the hunt unfolded, Simon and I watched closely did our best to document the hunt, although the scramble, screaming, and ultimate capture present a chaotic scene! Waiti chased the duiker into a thick patch of forest where we momentarily lost sight of him and the others, who followed the chase hurriedly! At this point, we could hear the duiker screams and the chimpanzee pant hoots as chaos ensued. Eventually, Waiti emerged holding the duiker carcass with the others behind him, surely hoping for a scrap. Waiti did not share even a morsel and climbed further up a tree and Simon and I had to reposition ourselves so that we could maintain visibility.
Waiti tried to consume the duiker whilst holding off the others. Soon, Samaki had positioned himself on the same branch as Waiti, while Elisha, Sanaa, and Bingwa were positioned in the same tree on branches below them. Kukulon, and Uyoga were on the forest floor, directly under the others. A scrap of the meat fell from Waiti and Uyoga quickly grabbed it and darted away. Samaki laid chase and the two disappeared into the thicket, followed by screams (probably of Samaki confiscating the morsel!).
Following the hunt and subsequent feeding, the party left the tree, now with Samaki carrying part of the carcass, mostly just skin and fur now. The males then travelled to a near-by river where everyone began to algae fish except Samaki, who was still duiker munching. It’s not clear if the duiker meat and algae fishing are related – maybe the meat prompts a nutritious craving for algae...some salt for their meal, perhaps?!
Regardless, it was an unforgettable day and one that had me appreciative of the challenges of capturing – scientifically, systematically – the complex world of wild chimpanzees!