Archive | June 2012


Last week we had a visitor at the tourist bandas, an elephant doing demolition work behind the kitchen area.


We were coming back from the forest when I took this photo about 300-m from my house. He glanced at us briefly before walking off to push down a palm tree.

The elephants on the island originate from the Serengeti, 14 were introduced in 1972 and today there are around 50-100 of them. They roam freely across the entire island and we often hear them whilst working in the forest. For the most part they don’t give us any problems, but a few times they have charged and we have had to drop everything and run in order to escape their fury. 

They knock down many trees in the forest, including chimpanzee nesting trees and fruit trees


Pic of SY clearing the road  after the elephant had knocked down a tree


feeling fruity

The northern hills of the island currently have an abundance of fruits. The largest fruit is called Mpira or Saba comorensis. Saba c. has a hard outer casing which stops the worms from entering inside, you can chew the seeds but it tastes extremely sour and I haven’t managed to eat a whole one yet, although JL loves them.




These little fruits resemble apples both in appearance and taste. Their latin name is Parinari curatellifolia. I made a jam using them and bananas last month, and it was delicious. JP couldn’t get enough of it.


These smaller fruits are more palatable than mpira, from top to bottom you have Salacia sp., Carpolobia conradsiana, and Pancovia turbinata. Although Pancovia tends to have a lot of worms so you have to be careful when you try to eat one.



Above is Uvaria sp. which is very sweet.


I am excited to taste some of the other fruits which the chimps eat, but I’ll have to wait until next month when they ripen.

If you want to know more about the diet of Rubondo chimpanzees read Liza Moscovice’s article titled:

Fruit Availability, Chimpanzee Diet, and Grouping Patterns…, published in 2007, in AJP.

nest to nest

The most well-known nest-builders are probably birds. Their nests vary in complexity, from simple accumulation of materials on the ground to elaborate designs. In the weaverbird family alone there is great diversity between species—those that build in exposed conditions include a thatched roof and insulated lining, whilst, others build nests which have thick walls and a sloping roof to keep out the rain.

 On Rubondo there are several species of weaver birds who create wonderfully intricate nests, such as the one below.

These structures are often used by ethologists to distinguish between several closely related species. Animals identified through differences in their nest architecture are termed ethospecies.  Birds’ nests can be readily identifiable to species level, for example, the hanging nest of the red-headwed weaver (Anaplectes rubriceps) is unique in construction.

Whether nests are found, conquered, or constructed; they typically serve as refuge and protection from unfavourable climate and predators, as a breeding site, or a resting place.

“So it is with the nests which vary partly in dependence on the situations chosen, and on the nature and temperature of the country inhabited, but often from causes wholly unknown to us.” —Darwin, 1859, On the Origin of Species

Fishing for samaki

The waters surrounding Rubondo island are protected, they in fact constitute the only protected bit of water on Lake Victoria. Therefore the surrounding shores make an excellent breeding ground for local fish, such as Tilapia and introduced Nile Perch. Unfortunately local fishermen are paid lots of money to fish in these waters because there is so much fish here and stocks have been heavily depleted in other parts of Lake Victoria. The fish is taken for consumption to Uganda, Rwanda, the UK as well as other parts of Tanzania.

Every week the rangers catch fishermen camping out on the island.

Fishing is the main source of livelihood for many people in the surrounding villages; around 120 poachers, exclusively men and young boys, are caught each month. When poachers are caught their catch is seized and they are taken to a local prison in Geita before being taken to court. Many serve a jail sentence of several years whilst others get off and return to poaching fish here if they have the money and connections to bribe officials.

The boats are of course also confiscated and burnt on site in the park.

In order to legally fish in the waters surrounding Rubondo you have to obtain a special liscence which costs $50 for non-East Africans (for 3 days), and $1 for Tanzanians. Sometimes visitors catch some mighty huge fish here…

This is a 50 Kg nile perch

I have yet to catch any fish…

the flowers of Rubondo

Wild jasmine

 tiny wild orchids

Invasive water hyacinth

first chimp sighting

on Friday, as we were hammering another tag into a nest tree, a caught a glimpse of a chimpanzee rump climbing up a hill only 20 metres away! I quickly motioned for my assistant to stop hammering and to be silent as I stood still and waited. The chimpanzee was a sub-adult male who sat down and seemed to be very curious as to who we were and what we were doing in his territory. He stared intently at the both of us, and was not perturbed when my walkie-talkie went off with TANAPA rangers shouting on the radio. During the contact at times he seemed agitated showing us a pout-face and randomly threw several large rocks down the slope. After around 20 minutes he climbed into a small tree and performed some wonderful acrobatics; he was also kind enough to poop for us before disappearing into a thick tangle of lianas. In total we had half an hour of contact, he had clear sight of us and remained at a 20 metre distance the entire time.

chimpanzee sleeping beds

Interestingly, all the great apes build nests. Although these are not permanent structures, like in birds, each ape will throughout his or her life construct a new nest every night and sometimes a day nest which is used for resting in the afternoon. An individual in its lifetime may build more than 20,000 nests, making this behavior the most pervasive form of technology in nonhuman primates. This is where my research comes in; I am interested in how our closest cousins, the chimpanzees, build nests and the function of these structures. My research isbased on Rubondo Island situated on Lake Victoria.

                             A CHIMP NEST

Here is a group of nests in one tree, the stars mark the position of the nests

                                              CHIMP NEST TREE

I am collecting various bits of information about these nests, such as the location of the nest in the tree, its height above ground and the number of chimpanzees sleeping in one group.

Sometimes in order to collect this information we have to clamber up to the nest.

this nest was about 5 metres from the ground

James searching for chimp hairs in the nest

A chimpanzee will locate one or two strong tree limbs which will form the foundation. Onto this the chimpanzee breaks and bends several branches, interlocking them and then folding smaller twigs over the edge to form a rim. The finished structure is a circular bowl, and sometimes leafy twigs are placed inside as lining. Only a mother and her weaning offspring will share a nest.

The house cont.

Rubondo Island is full of wonderful creatures some very big and others small. 

I share my bedroom with the sweetest little creature and each evening she pops out to finish the food on my plate and nibble on left over fruit. At first I thought it was a bush baby, but one day I caught it eating a banana in one of my bags and after closer inspection I came to the conclusion that it is definitely a mouse. 




Yesterday we found her in a bucket in the bathroom, and I don’t think she was feeling very well so I left her to rest in my bed before heading out to the forest