Otomi, an adult female of Kamekake (E1 group), gave birth recently. Before that, she and Osamu, her 3-year-old son, went missing for a few days and when she came back she had a baby clinging on her belly -very dark and quite hairy already! Then, she disappeared again for 3 days and was spotted briefly the following day under a strong rain, the infant still on her belly. Sadly, that was the last time he (it was a male) was seen alive. When we found the group the next morning, she was carrying an inanimate body within her hands, followed by Osamu. Like the rest of the group, she went foraging high in a Boleka tree for breakfast, carrying the corpse in one hand. When she got down, Osamu tried to get the body, pulling its arms towards him but Otomi did not let it go. She then went on the next group activity: grooming. While others engaged in social grooming, she started grooming the face of the dead infant with her mouth. She was still protective of it and sat at the end of the dead tree trunk, keeping the infant against her when another individual approached. A few hours later, her behavior seemed to have changed as she was observed dragging the body on the ground and shaking it, potentially to get rid of the flies that started to gather around. Ten minutes later, she abandoned the corpse on the ground. At first, Kiyota, an adolescent male showed interest and touched the body but then quickly left with the rest of the group. The body had no apparent wound, did not yet smell and was not rigid either. We will never know what happened in between that rainy afternoon and the following morning but this reminded us how unpredictable life can be in the forest. (To end up on a positive note, Hoshi, another adult female of Kamekake, has an enormous belly so, we hope to share better news soon!)
“Who run the world?” I don’t know why but that song came to my mind after what just happened. It was the afternoon and the bonobos got excited because they discovered a place full of bimbo (big fruits resembling somewhat to jackfruits). They were feeding noisily, showing their appreciation for these treats when the yummy grunts transformed into screams –very strident and long screams. A fight had occurred and from a distance, it was difficult at first to understand who was suffering from the attack but quickly we could see a group of females taking over one individual. Jiro, a young adult male, was on the ground, bitten by females while other males were surrounding the scene from nearby trees, vocalizing without intervening. It was a long and very loud attack, quite scary actually. I was thinking they were going to kill him when suddenly Jiro escaped and ran away, the females after him and the males left behind. We approached the crime scene and found some blood on the ground. So, even if Jiro escaped, he was probably injured. After the attack, the group split into two parties: Jacky, Jiro’s mother, plus her offspring and Kiku with other females as well as their offspring. Jiro disappeared. He was spotted the next day ranging alone. I saw him two days later avoiding the group and licking a wound on his forearm. He seemed ok. Since then, both parties join at times but Jiro keeps his distance. So, to answer Beyonce’s famous question: in bonobo society, females run the world. They share power while males’ social rank depends on the status of their mothers. When I asked the trackers their opinion on what happened, they said that Jiro is often seen displaying and provoking the rest of the group. He did so just before the attack and that time was probably too much for the females…
At Wamba, we started training for the 2018 FIPA (Federation of International Primatological Associations) World (Primate) Cup, which will be held this summer during the International Primatological Society Congress in Nairobi. We hope the rest of the team in Japan is doing the same! Get ready Nairobi, WCBR [Wamba Committee for Bonobo Research] is coming!
Lots of things happened over the past two weeks –some exciting, some others a bit less. Let’s start with exciting stuffs! First, earlier this week, some E1 females hunted ‘itere’, a flying squirrel constituting the only known source of meat for bonobos at Wamba –something very rare to witness. Kiku, the alpha female of E1 group caught it and shared with Sachi -an adolescent female asking for a piece while offering her genital in exchange. Kalin, Kiku’s juvenile daughter got a piece too, as well as Fua and Namie, two other young females. Males got nothing this time. Then, another rare event happened in Wamba bonobos' life: both groups encountered! I could not witness it myself as something less exciting, called Malaria, knocked back at my door at the same time but Toda, Bafaluka, Isolumbo, Emike and Mboka did. E1 group fled at first and later, the trackers observed some agonistic interactions between both groups but Fua did not seem to mind and was the one initiating affiliative behaviors towards members of PE group such as grooming. Both groups nested in the vicinity and interacted again the next day. Fua remained in PE group while the rest of E1 returned to their part of the forest. Meanwhile, at camp, we started discussing conservation education activities with the school director of the locality and some teachers. We also got the visit of an anthropologist, Dr. Lys Alcayna, a postdoc at the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale and at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, who works on the perception of Conservation NGOs by local people as well as on the recent Ebola outbreak (2014) in the region (–it was nice meeting you Lys!). And then, we got another surprise visit from the Ministry of Environment which came to witness some deforestation issues happening within the Scientific Reserve of Luo… -an experience to say the least.
Some momentum as supplementary material:
- Not understanding Besao, the ‘sentinel’ (-I made progress in Lingala but not yet enough…), who is asking me to remove my clothes that are drying outside because the woman who usually does it is at a funeral and he can’t touch my "women clothes"… I only understood ‘morte’ (= dead in French) and was wondering who died and what he was trying to tell me…
- At the church, the priest is reciting the Bible in Lingala and a pig just outside the window is snorting between verses while everyone is keeping its seriousness...
Cheers from the forest!
Last night, we screened the film “BONOBOS” by Alain Tixier at Wamba to introduce some of the outreach activities we are planning with local schools. Many kids and some parents, grand-parents, and grand-grand-parents joined! Everyone remembered "Madame Claudine" [-Claudine André] and knew about Lola ya Bonobo [sanctuary] but much less knew about bonobo behavior and this made lots of people laugh (as well as the sound of the film inaudible… except when the “mamans” at Lola were singing). Some key moments when everyone got excited: a scene with infant bonobos stamping on millipedes and for which all the kids went: “HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” for a long minute; and another scene shot at Wamba with bonobos of E1 group whom the trackers recognized immediately. That was fun and everyone seemed to have enjoyed. More soon…
Before leaving, a friend offered me the illustrated book “Fieldwork FAIL” by Jim Jourdane. I read it twice already (thanks Julie!) and this motivated me to share a few of ours so far. We hope the list won’t be too long… but after 5 months, we are afraid it will! “Fieldwork Fail [is] when things don’t go as planned [for scientists]”
Note: Toda is at Wamba to study why and how bonobo females emigrate from their natal group and Cecile investigates the link between hand-to-mouth behaviors and parasite infection in bonobos.
C: Went to the church on my first Sunday to get to know the local community. Not been able to tell the priest that I am an atheist and thus been asked to serve at the church on Sundays.
T: Used the machete to cut a vine and make our way to the forest. The vine was connected above with a node of dead branches that felt on my head and blocked the way.
C: Came back from a long day in the forest. Saw a bottle of water on the table (a luxury – because we usually boil water from the river). Took a big sip of it. Not water but local alcohol (~80%).
T: Waited for a juvenile female bonobo to finish urinating and leave before collecting her urine. Approached the crime scene with precautions and started sampling. Her mother stopped by and peed on myself ruining my sample collection.
C: Chased the bonobos for several hours before finally being able to see them well and record some data. This was without counting on sweat flies… which love to get inside human eyes.
C: Was doing bonobo observation while two guys pushing a bike passed between my focal subject and I. They were carrying a dead body to the next village.
T: Went to the river to fish with one of our tracker. Throw the line and waited. Waited. Waited... I forgot to attach weight at the end of the lure.
C: Got waken up by water dropping on me in the middle of the night. Realized our leaf roof is not waterproof. Put some plastics on top of my mosquito net and went back to sleep. Water kept dropping between the plastics and created a little water pond on my sleeping bag.
“Comic” scenes of everyday life at Wamba:
- Taking a shower (bucket of water) with a pig
- Trying to do your business while dancing to avoid ants
- Entering data while a goat is snoring or farting at the door
- Sundays = visit days = people bringing presents = live chicken and ducks under the table
- Writing this up while the cat is devouring my midday snack
Fieldworkers would probably agree that time has a different meaning in the field. In Japan, doing deskwork, time just flies. In Wamba, you feel every hour. We have been here for only 10 days but it feels like one month. The days start early, by 4 am we are already up, and leave for the forest around 4:30 am with headlights and boots on. It takes 1 to 1h30min on foot to reach the nesting site of bonobos from the field station. On the way, the sound of insects and the voices of trackers speaking in their local language, Longando, make me think (–until the entrance of the forest at least, after what I must concentrate on what is on the ground!). We usually arrive before the bonobos wake up and wait under their nests. Then, infants start playing around and getting down. There are two well habituated groups in Wamba: E1 and PE. This week, we followed both groups. While E1 lives mainly in primary forest, PE rather lives in swampy areas of secondary forest which makes their observation very challenging. But once you’ve overcome branches, roots, vines, holes, spikes, sweat flies (-they love us as much as we hate them), swamps, ants, pees and poops, bonobos are so cool to observe! Both groups include several infants and juveniles so, we witness funny scenes. Bonobos are a food taboo in Wamba, which is not the case for many other animals inhabiting the forest. However, several individuals have missing fingers or legs due to snares originally made to catch duikers and other wildlife. Sadly, this and other individual features help identification. I have nicknamed a few to facilitate memorization: Nobita is “Voldemort” –part of his nose is ripped off, Kalin is “Greemlin”, and Ten is known as “White nipples”. I found more nicknames linked to genital parts that I won’t share here… Bombambo (“parasol tree”), Bokombe, Bolinda, and Bosenge are some of their current favorite trees and some names to remember. So, we go from tree to tree, from primary to secondary forest, from agricultural fields with old mamas looking at bonobos with intense curiosity, to swampy forest until they nest, around 17:30 these days. We were under some of their nesting tree, it was already getting dark in the forest when we heard high pitch “Yaaaah Yaaaaah Yaaaaah”. Toda told me: “Sunset call, they will sleep here”. So, we took the GPS location and we left, came back to camp after some kilometers on the Bomboli ("butterfly" in Lingala) road (= unstable bamboos and dead tree trunks to cross the river) and made it just on time for the daily staff meeting at 7pm. A bucket of water, and a plate of rice, eggs, matembele and beya later, and it’s our time to sleep…
After one week in Kinshasa for Toda and a few days for me, staying in Sainte-Anne (a catholic church serving as hostel), telling missionaries that we study bonobos, stopping by the Ministry of Scientific Research and visiting Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary, we finally left Kinshasa on Wednesday morning. First stop: Djolu. The flight from Kinshasa takes about 4 hours and is operated by MAF, an American missionary company which flies primatologists in the middle of the forest to study the origins of human evolution... The flight gave us an amazing view: 360 degrees of forest –reassuring to see. We landed without problem and had a welcoming committee waiting for us, including Nahoko Tokuyama (post-doctoral researcher at Wamba) with whom we could exchange a few hugs and sentences before she took the same 9S-EMO plane back to Kinshasa after 6 months in Wamba. Men gather to carry the 550kg of luggage, equipment, material and food that we brought with us –pushing bikes on foot for 80km of sandy trail until Wamba. We reach Djolu village by motorbike, drop our bags at the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) station and visit a few houses for formalities, the DGM’s to give some money and register our presence in the locality, the colonel’s to have some foufou and matembele, and Djolu’s office’s to greet the chef de bureau. Tired of our journey, we go to bed early but this was without expecting there would be a football game… PSG-Real Madrid. We probably had the biggest supporters of those teams united under the same roof that night. Next morning, we go to Djolu’s local market to get a few more stuffs like soap, garlic and slippers, and participate in an interview with Radio Bolombo –AWF’s local radio raising awareness among local populations regarding deforestation. Finally, we are set and get off with two motorbikes and one rally champion –Jean-Marie. Four hours later, here we are, Wamba! I arrive with Jean-Marie first. On the way, many hands waving at us. While waiting for Toda and Feli to arrive, I meet Mr Nkoyi Batolumbo, the first bonobo tracker who started with Prof Kano at the early stage of the project back in 1973. Together with many others, we look at the July 2017 National Geographic issue about Antarctica… A captivated audience to say the least. Then, Toda arrives like a local superstar and put his forehead on many other foreheads, and so do I. We unpack most of the boxes, pay our helpers, settle down in our new mud house and look forward to the forest and the bonobos the next day…