As we are now entering the last bit of “crouching-jumping-falling-running-sweating”, I thought some Fieldwork FAIL updates were necessary (-all of this for ultimate Fieldwork SUCCESS of course!):
C: Trying to do bonobo observations while you have Giardiasis symptoms. Not a good idea. I skip the details.
T: Collecting urine sample from a juvenile female –that same juvenile female who pooped on my head while I was collecting. And I had removed my helmet to do so.
C: Fell (as usual). Tried to receipt myself by catching a vine before hitting the ground. The vine had big spikes. #holyhands
T: The bonobos crossed the river from above. We did via some log of wood on water but could not find the bonobos. We were crossing back when we heard them still on the other side. I turned back trying to keep balance. The log of wood cracked and… PLOUF!
C: I didn’t understand why the trackers showed that much precaution every time we passed a “yuku” (forest wasp) nest. Now I do. #pumpkinface
T: Removed my boots to cross the river. Put them back on. Another river crossing: looked feasible. It wasn’t. Fell and got ‘swampy’ feet for the rest of the day.
C: 5am. Not caffeinated enough. Used the same forest path as thousands of army ants. Ran, jumped, ran, jumped, ran. Woke up.
C: The bonobos were resting. I removed my helmet, started a sort of head massage and got lost in my thoughts. An adolescent female silently positioned herself 2m above my head and delivered a big splash of urine!
And THE Palm goes to Okamura (2017) [-sorry, I’ve heard of that one]:
Wearing a blue [“YMCA”] helmet to protect myself from falling branches. Not protecting me from sexually-aroused adolescent (bonobo) females who seem to think it makes me damn attractive.
PS: Our main toilets got wiped out during the last storm so no one can get in -including the goats...
Hoshi (from Kamekake’s group) gave birth recently and we were waiting a bit before to announce The News. The tradition at Wamba is to name bonobos with the same first letter as the mother. The infant has already resisted several strong rains, is very vocal, quite hairy and promised to be a tough cookie, so we decided to name her (or him) Himani (after a promising female primatologist friend from the Himalayas). I proposed Honda or Hans as alternatives if it’s a male but it didn’t get the unanimity –sorry guys. So, welcome to the world Himani! And +1 for bonobo world's population! Yeaaaaah! PS: In other news, two weeks ago, we screened Planet Earth Season II, Episode 1 (the famous BBC documentary series narrated by Sir David Attenborough) with the epic scene of baby marine iguanas being chased by snakes on the beach. This was worth any football game I have ever watched in Africa so far. Hundreds of people gathered in our yard to support and encourage the baby iguanas. The snakes (“nyoka” in Lingala) were definitely the bad guys. Then, by the end of the scene… GOAAAAAAAAL!!! The baby iguanas reached safety on top of a cliff, everyone applauded and yoo-hoo-d together, arms up in the air as a sign of Victory... Cheers from the forest!
We just got back from a 3-day trip to Kokolopori (~70km away from Wamba or 2.5 hours of sandy-bumpy motorbike trail + 1h walk into the forest), where another group of researchers and trackers study bonobos. It was nice to visit a camp isolated in the forest for a change (not in the village like Wamba) and to meet its crew. This meant bathing in the river, sleeping in hammock (or tent) and seeing red-tail monkeys from it, hearing the peaceful symphony of birds and insects (instead of screaming kids), and on the downside more mice and snakes as well as way too many bees and bombos (-annoying micro-biting flies)! During our short stay, we could compare both field sites and noticed a few striking differences: machetes get replaced by secateurs; trackers use phones to record daily data on bonobo behavior and female sexual swelling; one group of bonobos is named after singers so, we witnessed Jackson grooming Madonna, the big belly of Papa Wemba, and the congenital abnormality of Bowie (-no balls); but also much more frequent inter-group encounters and way more bombos (did I say it already?!). We for sure brought lots of ideas and resolutions back to Wamba so, thanks to Martin Surbeck and his team for hosting us!
Stormy-rainy day today and for once I’m happy to be inside. Last night, we screened the two short films “Madame Morgane” (Morgane Allanic, PhD student at KUPRI), as she is called here, made last year: one about bonobos and one about life at Wamba. People absolutely loved it!!! It was sooooo good!!! Some of them were seeing themselves on a film for the first time, Papa Nkoyi kept identifying all old bonobo females he saw as “Nao” –one of the oldest female of Kamekake (and no one dared to contradict him), bonobo sex scenes were of course a blast, and we couldn’t stop laughing while watching our trackers dancing during a ceremony. (We all agreed that some could clearly improve their move.) By the end of the evening, we reached over 100 hundred laughers in this small village of Equatorial Africa and had to screen each film twice –exactly what everyone needed after the past two weeks. Cheers from the forest!
After “Humans of New York”, “Paris”, or “Tehran”, here comes the first portrait for “Humans of Wamba”! Nkoyi Batolumbo, ~73-83++ (people don’t know their exact birthdate here and it may vary of a few years…), freshly back from a ~1200km motorbike and boat trip to open a bank account (-we were a bit worried…), is the first bonobo tracker of the Wamba project. Papa Nkoyi (= leopard in Lingala) survived one civil war and much more. His name comes from a story that happened during the chaos. At that time (1996), bonobo research was interrupted as the army was occupying our present field station and many villagers escaped into the forest. One day, some soldiers threatened Papa Nkoyi and asked him to show them where the bonobos live. They wanted to get some meat. Papa Nkoyi refused. He told them that they can kill him but he won’t show the location of the bonobos because he doesn’t want to lose his job. Since then, “Nkoyi” was added in front of his name to reflect his fearless character, bonobos survived, and research resumed in 2003. Papa Nkoyi is now retired and an honorary member of the Center for Research in Ecology and Forestry (CREF) at Wamba.
Warning: this time, there is blood AND feces in the same post (–sorry). Dear fellow scatologists, scatophiles and others, here is a field “Cluedo” for you. Let’s set up the crime scene first. It was mid-afternoon on a sunny Sunday, in front of our window. How nice. A decapitated mouse and next to it as a signature and provocation from the author of the crime: a big ‘greeny-bloody’ turd. We will give you two clues to help us elucidate this affair. Clue n°1: the apparent type and size of the signature is not a reliable cue. Clue n°2: neither Toda nor I. In the second photo, the principal suspect trying to hide…
Last week, the bonobos were sick. Most of the group was sneezing, some even coughing. This pandemic which lasted for a few days followed repetitive rains. During that time, the group ranged less far than usual and was mainly resting. So, for the first time, I was witnessing signs of sickness at the scale of a group. Days were then a bit less exhausting but not less interesting. Most of them had a runny nose (-we wore masks and kept our distance as much as possible), some would wipe it occasionally on tree vines, while others (most) preferred to pick it and lick their fingers. I named this behavior “pick-lick” (-looks like “picnic” but of another kind). While in humans, pick-lick may disappear (for most) by the end of primary school mainly due to social disgust pressure, in bonobos, age doesn’t matter –infants and adults alike seem to enjoy it. That said they contented themselves with their own snorts and not the ones of others, even between mothers and infants. Yoda, a male infant, broke all records; 54 pick-lick within 5 minutes! What a greater way to build your immune system?! A few days later, it was our turn to get similar symptoms (but not similar response behaviors, he!). Let’s hope it was the change of weather…
6:22 am. Trying to catch up with the bonobos when we hear them screaming from a distance. Bambambe says: “Stay here. I think they’ve found an animal”. So, I wait a bit while the bonobos keep vocalizing. After making sure the situation is secured (sort of), he tells me I can approach. A Bay duiker (Cephalophus dorsalis) is caught in a traditional trap. The bonobos (almost all individuals of Kamekake) are surrounding the scene. The duiker is still alive and the bonobos seem very agitated and intrigued. Bambambe says: “We are here for the day. When in 2012, PE group found an antelope; they stayed around for one week as the hunters were on a trip.” A few individuals start displaying at the trapped animal, shaking branches, jumping around, and checking its reaction. Worried about their investigative behavior, Lokemba (another tracker of E1 group) add: “We have better to kill it, otherwise the bonobos may free it [as it happened in the past] and we will get in trouble with the hunters.” Traditional traps are allowed in the reserve (not wire-ones) and a duiker like this, caught once every few months, is worth 50,000 CF = 30 USD. The animal is already wounded and seems very weak. We know it is going to die anyway so, better to make it quick. Bambambe helps but bonobos stick around. Adolescents and juveniles seem the most investigative; they repetitively touch the dead animal and subsequently smell their fingers. Some even go until mouthing it (-yes, Wamba is a great place for epidemiologists). Some others, on the contrary (mainly adult males), seem much more cautious and keep a certain distance. The primary investigation lasts until hunger is calling, i.e. about six hours later. They did not have proper breakfast yet. So, Yuki (an adult female) with Yoda (her son) on her back, followed by Otomi and Fuku (two other adult females) and their infants, start leading the way to a Boleka tree. They feast and then the group comes back. But the duiker has disappeared; the morning team brought it back to the village. The same individuals keep screening the place. One adolescent female, Debby, is now playing with the rope that was tight around the duiker leg. She keeps it in the mouth while the group starts moving to its next foraging location, and the rest of the day goes on. Before nesting, they stop by the same spot (and will do so up to five days later!). On the way back from the forest, kids without teeth and underwear run outside their houses to wave at me and shake hands (I feel very privileged! Some still call me Toda –not sure if it is the short hair, the white skin or both). And another day goes by in Wamba forest…
In between two posts, let me share… the surprise of the day! I opened the door… and Darwin, they scared me! They were near the hole at the time -I probably scared them too. People told me to watch out for snakes (and I try to avoid army ants) but I was not expecting to find goats in the toilets!
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!)