From the field!

November 2022 (Nora Bennamoun)
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Me again, here is my second blog entry about the encounter between two communities of chimpanzees at Issa. Hope it's as welcomed as the previous one!

 

In my previous blog was tryingI tried to explain how difficult following wild chimpanzees can be. Despite challenges, we also often have easy days, mainly when males feed for a long time at the same spot. Females do not usually move as much as males, but of course, the activity budget in chimpanzee depends on multiple different factors and is not oft-reported. 

 

At the moment, we are just entering the month of November, the dry season is ending and everyone awaits the first rains impatiently. In the field, we are overwhelmed by the heat and the high humidity. While a few patches of the habitat keep burning, I have noticed that the chimpanzees' feeding patterns have changed, and vigilance has increased for reasons that I can not explain. Lately, parties seem harder to follow, their speed increases, and they seem more aware of our presence. While they stayed feeding in the woodland for hours in September, they now travel further these days. 

My story begins when I went out with Simon (inset in photo, following a party). We worked the afternoon shift, and unpredictable didn't approach our afternoon! The party stayed grooming for a bit before embarking on a long journey. Together - apes and researchers - climbed and descended in what appeared impossible places - the scratches and bruises on my legs bear witness to this. I found myself stuck many times…and I obviously lost Simon regularly - him with the party, me with the thorns! The game that I call: "find Simon then chimpanzees" was on. His years of following chimpanzees and remarkable spatial memory allow him to avoid the worst spots of thicket and anticipate where the party was headed. He thus instructed me to a spot further up the valley, where he (and presumably the party!) were headed. I hurried out of the forest and ran to the location he had given me and arrived in a short time. He was indeed there and he was with the party! I was so relieved...and impressed! The party was ~ 11 individuals, but when they want to lose us, they can. We followed them through the (flat) plateaus, towards the periphery of their range. It was almost 6 pm and they were heading to the place they have been nesting nest. 

 

So I thought...!

 

They moved in a line along the rocky plateau, then suddenly they stopped and two males went bipedal. I barely had the time to ask Simon what was happening when all of a sudden a wave of chimpanzees from a neighbouring community (between 10-12) descended on the focal party. The Issa party was immediate as they disappeared amidst a sea of screams and chaos into the near-by forest, with the other party in close pursuit! Although it was only moments, it was an incredible scene, a surprise attack of sorts! I hated that I was too slow to film the encounter, but I would have not been fast enough anyway. When members of both communities were finally gone and only the echo of their screams remained, Simon turned to me and said: « Well, we lost our chimps ».

My reaction? « THAT WAS IN-SANE DID YOU SEE THAT? » Simon chuckled, but seemed more pre-occupied in recovering the party, especially so close to nesting time! Despite our attempts to find them, however, chasing sounds led us only to the other community, and only from afar. They seemed mammoth, at least the size of Issa chimpanzees, although being piloted-erect can do that! One individual had a back as grey and white as a silverback gorilla...and seemed as large as one, too! 

The next day, we found the Issa chimpanzees early in the morning., no foreigners in sight! Lucky us, let another track begin...!