Walking through Rubondo forest is dangerous not only because we have hippos and elephants roaming around– we saw 2 elephants this morning on the road– but also because many of the trees and small shrubs here have thorns on them; the caterpillars and ants bite and sting us, and occasionally we also bump into the odd snake or two.
This hairy fella I stroked for several minutes, his hairs didn’t sting, so not all hairy caterpillars are dangerous. Although I wouldn’t dare touch the one below… because his spikes scream out Hatari!
The fella below I managed to accidently brush against my cheek one wet morning…it stung like hell, and left me with a rash for several days.
The palm spikes are about 3 inches long and v. painful, apparently they contain poison.
These samplings of the crocodile tree are always catching my legs in the bush.
A visitor in July unfortunately managed to impale her hand on a crocodile-tree spike whilst trying to catch herself from falling; her poor hand swelled up. This is what they eventually become (see below).
Luckily we haven’t experienced any bites from snakes…
Here a Rock python
and Jameson’s mamba
We recently had a visit from a professional photographer Mr RK and he took some great pictures of my gorgeous team…
Before we set off for the forest we have to ensure we take all the correct equipment… headlamps for those early mornings, a compass in case we get lost and or the GPS battery runs out, a GPS to mark the points of those all important chimp sightings, walkie talkies, binoculars for closer observations, and a notebook.
SO has spotted something in the trees.
A chimp kindly left us a sample, we carefully collect it into a tube for DNA analysis
The must do Reservoir Dogs walking pose
We all love photos of baby animals, so I thought I should start the year with this post. Actually it happened in 2012 and I was away from Rubondo at the time but luckily some of my colleagues at the national parks service shared their photos with me.
In August, a young male elephant was lost in the forest, and wandered to the Kasenya ranger post in the northern part of the island. The rangers were not sure of what to do with the elephant, but TANAPA HQ instructed park staff to look after the elephant. The rangers tried to make sure he wasn’t eaten by the resident crocs by gently coaxing him away from the water. He was a feisty little elephant so it wasn’t that easy to get close to him.
Eventually after a few days with the rangers the elephant found his mother and the rest of the herd.
Last week we found a young vervet monkey on the beach under a mango tree. The poor thing had a huge black eye and was bleeding a little. I assumed it must have fallen out of the tree; it could only crawl using its arms and appeared not able to walk using its back legs or move its tail. I picked it up in my arms and took it to our house. Along the ten minute journey through the forest it desperately tried to bite me. I called him Antocha, after my old pet monkey Anton which our family kept when I was four years old. Antocha didn’t want anything to drink, but he was happy to eat chapati and tomatoes. We placed him inside a tent to rest. Antocha required medical attention but I am not a vet so I spoke to the park ecologist. Unfortunately, vervet monkeys are numerous in Tanzania, I was told that if he had been an elephant or better a rhino I vet would have been called immediately from the Serengeti but injured monkeys are of no concern. We kept feeding him at regular intervals, in-between work in the forest, he particularly liked porridge. On the second day he seemed to have perked up, and this time managed to get a good bite out of my thumb. It hurt quite a bit and became swollen. I was worried about rabies and tetanus for some few days. I was told that I couldn’t get an injection against tetanus at our island clinic; the nearest hospital is 3 hours away by road from the mainland. On weekends the hospitals don’t do tetanus injections, so I would have to wait some few days. Luckily I checked and I had been vaccinated against tetanus in the UK, so hopefully I should be fine. Rabies is extremely severe and doesn’t stay dormant for too long in its host, most infected animals have an onset of symptoms within 3-7 days, by doing a quick examination of Antocha’s external appearance I guessed that it was unlikely to have rabies. I could be wrong of course.
Sadly after 4 days Antocha lost conciousness and appeared to go into a comma. He died 2 days later. One of the guys at the tourist camp told me he had been in a fight with a colobus monkey over mangoes. Poor darling.
I didn’t take any pictures of Antocha because it was too upsetting.
Rubondo has a large population of black kites (Milvus migrans) who often fish on the shore close to our house. I hadn’t realised how beautiful these birds are until I started to photograph them and caught some pictures of them in the sunlight. I am not sure why they are called black kites, since they are clearly caramel brown. But we have more of these than the fish eagles. Enjoy!
The island encompasses 250 square kilometres and there are some parts which can easily be reached by foot. But to get to the vast majority of chimp areas we use motorbikes here are just some of the pictures taken during 2012 field season.
Last week some new vehicles arrived to replace our dying Yamahas. Thank you so much AE, JW and JF for sending these out to us.
For my research on chimpanzee nests I am measuring thickness, depth, width as well as the number of plant parts used in nest construction. In order to do this we have to get inside the nests. This is done in two ways, either by free-climbing the tree to reach the nest or by using ropes and climbing gear adopted from rock climbers.
Above SO is free-climbing a nest 8 metres above the ground
It was interesting to watch SO climbing this tree because he did it with such ease, looking utterlycomfortable up in that tree. After several months I still get nervous 5 metres off the ground.
Free climbing can be risky, and some of the nests on the island are located more than 20 metres high. So we are also using the double rope technique to reach the higher nests.
Above JL getting some practise in using ropes.
SS hovering above the ground
JS inside a nest
Above is a photo of me climbing up to a nest 25 metres, I am about halfway there in the photo. The pic was taken by JS who was 8 metres off the ground.
After a long day of climbing we get very tired and often take naps. Fortunately the chimp nests are very comfortable when they are green (newly built).
Lastly above is my first photo of a Rubondo chimp inside a nest … two in fact, there is another chimp just hidden out of view by the leaves on the left hand side.
After an extended break from the island–2 months–I am now back, London was great because I had a chance to see my friends and family. But I have also missed Rubondo and my little chimpies. So after a month of October of not seeing the elusive fellas I had a wonderful end of the month when the chimps decided to stay with us last Friday.
We heard the chimpanzees calling on several consecutive days, and saw them briefly for half an hour on Thursday. Then because we knew roughly where they were sleeping on Thursday night, we travelled early in the morning at 5AM to Kamea on Friday; on entering the forest at 06:25hrs we heard load chimpanzee calls and walked closer towards their sounds. We observed the chimpanzees dropping from their nests and walking along the forest floor. It was very dark at this time and so it was difficult to see them clearly. But we think there were about 6 chimps in total.. The chimpanzees kept vocalising for half an hour. Several of them started to move up the hill, and my trackers followed them up onto the top. We saw one chimpanzee climb back on top of a tree. So together with a field assistant I stayed back and waited for it to drop back down. We waited for nearly an hour. It was difficult to see the chimpanzee because the tree in which it was located in was very bushy/dense-we patiently sat and waited.
Then suddenly there was a commotion in the tree and two chimpanzees climbed out and onto another tree. They crossed several trees and finally settled down to observe us. There was one adult male and one juvenile male. They continued to call intermittently for around 3 hours. They were feeding and resting for some of the time. The chimpanzees remained with us for 10 hours and even built a proper day nest up in the trees. I had to send one of my boys to fetch me some lunch at midday. Eventually at 16:30hrs they moved off to join their fellows and we lost them in the thick lianas.