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!)
“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