Proud of our new logo designed in collaboration with Elodie Thomas! Meaning: the roots remind us of a connected past, while the tips of the branches promise a divergent future. The twisted trunk also expresses the importance of genetics shaping the future of our evolution, as well as the field of Primatology, with a resemblance to DNA supercoiling. The tree is a nod to the Kyoto University logo and symbol, the kusunoki tree that sits out front Kyoto University's Clock Tower. The dots (nodes) and dashed lines (connections), taken from social network analytics, reflect the interdisciplinarity we can find in the field of Primatology and at the Primate Research Institute. The two profiles, generic primate on one side and human on the other, are there to remind us how the study of non-human primates contributes to a better understanding of ourselves.
And… we are back to a very different kind of jungle, made of concrete and full of human primates [-weird…] aka Tokyo (and now to the more peaceful Inuyama)! So, of course, everyone is asking: “How was Wamba?!” and it’s hard to describe the Experience in a few words only, but let me try here. Wamba is an incredible place, in every sense of the word. Incredible because as human beings, we get to observe some of our last closest living relatives in their remaining natural environment and incredible also because we often witness surrealist situations (-the station is located in the middle of the village) linked to History and its socio-politico-cultural context. At least, that is how I perceived it during our stay but previous and future visitors/researchers may have a different perspective. Note that if you have been to Wamba, you have not been forgotten there! I think I have heard of ALL of you during my stay ;)
In random order, I will miss:
- Hot baked bread from Pasteur Aaron (who wants to develop a bakery project at Wamba!)
- The bucket of hot water under the stars after 14hours in the forest
- The “no teeth no underwear” (i.e. kids, not old people) waving and shaking hands on the way back from the forest
- The smiles, the laughter (particularly the one from Isolumbo aka “Vieux Calvin”), the colors, the fresh air
- Pigs, goats, chicken and other house-/toilet-/shower-mates
- The staff (Embele, Cedric, Batandanga, Lokemba, Bafaluka, Bafutsa, Bambambe and others -even Besao)
- The outdoor life
- The songs at the church and Cedric’s playlist (including Fally)
- The “appeased despite all” face of the old mamas
- Avocados, forest mushrooms, sese (fizzy palm wine), “Lion King” worms, and fried bananas
- The deep sleep
- And last but never least the bonobos…
Think I will not miss but I may soon start to miss:
- The daily 4am protestant church (our neighbors) drums
- Waking up with a boost of adrenaline caused by a 5am morning run in the forest to avoid thousands of army ants using the same path as us
- The “Ave Maria”, “Everywhere I go there is Jesus” and other songs
- The daily 7pm staff meeting
Will definitely not miss:
- Belo, bombo, yuku (at first mispronounced “kuyu” or [couillu]…) and other nasty flies
- Gun shots in the forest
- Giardiasis, malaria and other symptoms
- Coffee seasoned with flies and/or gecko poops
- Some corrupted officials
Humans of Wamba #2. Lokemba, 26, Ornella (his wife), 22, and their two sons: Bertholin (4) and Chico (1). Lokemba is the youngest worker of the Wamba Committee for Bonobo Research (WCBR). Like his father (Batsindelia –now retired), Lokemba aspires to become a bonobo tracker and follows the oldest habituated group of wild bonobos in the world: Kamekake (also known as E1 after civil war). While Lokemba is in the forest, Ornella teaches at the primary school in Yayenge –one of the six localities of Wamba. Before joining WCBR, Lokemba was a secondary school teacher. He met Ornella in 2013 while they were both studying Pedagogy (at different class levels) in a locality between their two natal villages. Then, one year, one goat, one “pagne” (traditional tissue used as a dress), three pots and 15,000 FC later, he got to marry her. When on the way back from the forest, I asked Lokemba how does he see their future, he said that they may have one or two more children, no more (–rare for here; they were laughing when I told them that a family with 3 kids in France is considered as “a big family”) and aim to evolve professionally as an established teacher (only after one or two decades of work, teachers can get a salary from the government) and a bonobo tracker.
Remember the sneezing pandemic with its popular “pick-lick” behavior two months ago? Well, this time, we got the coughing pandemic with its “spit-and-swallow” (-you’re welcome) associated behavior; a pandemic not only touching the bonobos but half the village as well, including kids, goats and pigs. (Pretty weird to wake up with goats coughing at your window…) As for the bonobos, if we relied only on our ears, one may think some hidden grandpas have invaded the forest. All individuals of Kamekake seem to be touched (while P-group remains untouched so far); some also having a runny nose… so, “pick-lick” is back! Unfortunately, the weather does not favor a quick recovery as we have experienced some harsh rain over the past few days. Then, the group does not range much and mainly rest or at least, the party we are following as, interestingly, they have split into several small parties. This makes me wonder: how long these kinds of symptoms last without the use of medicine, or do they treat themselves with some plants containing secondary compounds (-haven’t noticed yet); and last but not least who was the first host… Cheers from the forest!
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…