Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy new years

Happy new years and Merry Christmas from the Mahale team.
Kiri and I managed to put on a little staff party thanks to Nomad. We barbequed a goat and few chickens and washed it all down with a few beers and soft drinks.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Has Alofu given up?

As time goes by the general opinion now favors Primus as the new Alpha male. Alofu seems to be content slotting back into the beta position. Our guests were watching Alofu relaxing on the path when he suddenly stood on two legs and turned in the direction of a displaying Chimpanzee. Primus charged through the undergrowth towards Alofu who quickly ran behind a big tree, as Primus passed, Alofu poked his head out to watch the younger male scream past. He then moved back out onto the path and resumed the same pose. Moments later, Primus stomped back and sat down next to Alofu for a grooming session.

 Primus stomping back past Alofu
 While grooming the Chimpanzees communicate by pant hooting.
Thank you Safoit Mardam for the photos.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Chimps go hunting.

Animal protein is back on the menu for the Chimpanzees of Mahale. It’s been many months since we’ve watched the Chimpanzees hunting, possibly due to emotions running on high after Pimu’s demise.
Our guests trekked into the forest after breakfast with an estimated half hour walk to meet the Chimps. They arrived to exciting news from the trackers who had just watched Alofu snatch an opportunistic breakfast in the form of a Blue Duiker. The Blue Duiker is the second smallest antelope in Africa and very fast, it is not an animal the Chimps will pursue on an organized hunt due to its allusiveness.
Alofu being the ultimate politician then proceeded to hand out tasty morsels of meat to almost all of the Chimps with him. The notable exception was Primus who he totally ignored.
This seemed to spark some life into the male Chimpanzees and the real hunt was on. The big males then proceeded to surround a Red Colobus troop high in the canopy. Surprisingly young Orion was at the center and once the Colobus were surrounded he shot up and snatched a young monkey. Darwin then sauntered up and stole the monkey out of Orion’s hands confirming Darwin’s number 3 position within the community. Darwin shared his spoils with 2 girls Canato and Vera, nothing was offered to the males involved in the hunt.
Then moments later the males were off again but this time it was Primus who led the hunt. He wasn’t satisfied with a juvenile monkey, he went for an adult and easily killed it, eating by himself up the tree. When full he casually dropped the half eaten Colobus for the other males to fight over. Interestingly, Alofu sat and watched, not taking part or competing for the scraps.
Many are favoring Primus as the new Alpha male but I’m not so sure yet!

 The Chimpanzees are powerful and fast when moving through the trees in pursuit of prey.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A lake Tanganyika waterspout.

Lake Tanganyika holds 17 percent of the world’s fresh water. Due to its remoteness the lake has no major industry along its banks helping contribute to its clear and uncontaminated waters. Tanganyika is so big that it creates its own weather patterns like this morning when we watched a huge waterspout form in the middle of the lake.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Kalunde's girl friend Nkombo

One Chimpanzee I have a lot of respect for is Nkombo. Nkombo has never had children, she is one of two females in the community that has always been barren.
Similar to humans, Chimpanzees cannot become pregnant while lactating or breast feeding, its got to do with a hormone that the body produces when they breast feed regularly. On average a female Chimpanzee will breast feed for 4 or 5 years which means they will not come into estrus until the child is eating solids. Only during estrus do the boys find the ladies attractive.

Now in her 40’s Nkombo has been coming into estrus for 6 days every month since she reached sexual maturity at the age of 12. Where as the other ladies in the community spend only a fraction of their life in estrus poor Nkombo gets hassled by the guys every month. Over the years she has formed a very close relationship with Kalunde ‘the king maker’ who is the oldest and most respected male. They are never far apart and on more than one occasion we have watched Kalunde protecting his girl friend from the advances of the other males.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Fruits aplenty

It’s a time of plenty for the Chimpanzee’s of Mahale. The forest is lush with abundant fruit and the Mahale community is taking advantage of the excess food.
Thoughts of politics seem to have been put to the side for the mean time.

Primus resting
Alofu enjoying lunch.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Baby update.

One of the highlights of Chimpanzee trekking is watching the babies play. We are lucky to have 12 baby Chimpanzees in the community. In particular we are keeping a close eye on Christina’s baby who is still not 100%, it seems her baby has a stomach problem.

Baby Chimps love to play.

Monday, November 28, 2011

What should I do with this?

Emory is 12 and has just reached sexual maturity but he is getting all the practice that he can.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Alofu fights Primus

Our guests had another fascinating day with the Chimpanzee’s. After a one hour walk to reach the community they witnessed what could well be a significant moment in the leadership battle.
Primus who we suspect is the new Alpha male was busy grooming and mating with Effie who is in estrous. We know that Effie is a special friend of Alofu and it seems Alofu got jealous, who wouldn’t. Suddenly Alofu violently attacked Primus chasing him around the forest. When 2 big males came in support of Alofu, Primus didn’t take long to get the picture making his escape. Interestingly, Bonobo hugged Alofu to restrain him from continuing the attack. Nervously Primus sat by himself at the top of a large tree.
It doesn’t seem as if Alofu is happy slotting back into the number 2 position.
The battle continues.
The guests caught the fight on Video, great veiwing.


Alofu followed by Kalunde the 'King maker'.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

When will the Chimpanzees hunt again

We have not witnessed the community hunt for at least 2 months. Mahale Chimpanzees favorite food is the Red Colobus monkey. They work as a team and surround the monkeys then usually it’s the Alpha male, the community leader that shoots up the tree to snatch the helpless Colobus. I wonder if the grizzly murder of Pimu is still too fresh on their minds, or is it the current fight for Alpha male between Primus and Alofu that is preventing them from hunting and eating meat.
One thing is for sure, when they do finally decide to hunt the male that holds and distributes the meat will no doubt be the new Alpha male.
 Kalunde the 'King maker' needs to decide who is the Alpha male if he wants to eat meat soon.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mahale Chimpanzee leadership update.

Depending on whom you ask there are still two contenders for the Alpha male position within the Mahale community of Chimpanzee’s. More than one and half months have passed since the murder of Pimu the former Alpha male and it seems that Alofu and Primus are still vying for the leadership. The Japanese researchers are pretty sure that Primus is in charge due to the submissive posture that Alofu adopts around him. However, Alofu is a political individual and has the support and friendship of more big male Chimps. He also seems to be in the middle of the community and often leads the way while Primus is more often than not seen on his own slightly separate to the main group. Yesterday our trackers witnessed Alofu beating Primus which doesn’t sound like he is being submissive at all! Today I watched as Alofu casually sat below the feeding community watching life go on around him, he was very cool, calm and collected, we could hear Primus calling not far off.

Alofu gazing into the tree's watching the community feeding on Saba Florida fruit.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Is that an elephant on your shirt?

When our guides give the guest briefing on what not to do around the Chimpanzee’s, one of the rules is not to wear clothing that has images of animals.
Of course Richard Knocker and his merry group played a trick on poor Filbert by turning up to breakfast in t-shirts with photos printed on the front from their last trip to Africa.
Filbert was in right fluster until we broke into laughter and it clicked that he was being fooled.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

That's mah boy!

When Jane Goodall first observed chimpanzees in the wild using tools, it was an epoch-making discovery. In October 1960, in Gombe National Park just one hundred kilometres north of our camp in Mahale, Jane watched as a chimp she had named David Greybeard poked a twig into a termite mound to ‘fish’ for his dinner.

For the first time, the ability to conceptualise the solution to a problem and then create a tool to put that solution into practice had been observed in an animal other than a human. In fact, before this event, the use of tools was considered to be one of the defining characteristics that separated homo sapiens from the rest of the animal kingdom.

Which is why our guests at Mahale, the Marks family from Oxfordshire, were so thrilled to see almost identical behaviour among our very own community of wild chimpanzees. Tani, one of our females, broke off the thick stem of a forest leaf and poked it into a hole in the trunk of a fallen tree to attract a tasty meal of live ants. She then demonstrated the technique to her young son, Ckriti, who got the hang of the idea in no time at all as the pair settled down together for a tasty snack. That’s mah boy, indeed!

Greystoke Mahale
Richard Madden

Photos: Tani & Ckriti feeding courtesy of Martha Marks

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hemingway, eat your heart out!

Chimps are not the only stars of the show at Greystoke, Mahale. Afternoon boat trips in our traditional dhows have their own cast of characters including hippos (often walking under the boat with their young and plainly visible in the crystal clear waters below), as well as the fish eagles and palm nut vultures that live in the beautiful bay south of camp.

And this week, the Wheeler family from Suffolk demonstrated that in the human species at least, alpha females often outdo alpha males. Expert fly fisherman, Mark Wheeler, set out on the afternoon fishing trip keen to bring home a big catch for evening sashimi at the bar and a fish dinner, only to be outdone by his wife, Caroline. Our trolling lines, dragged behind the boat with a spinner, tend to be great levelers and it was Caroline who landed an 8kg perch! Mark’s 0.2kg cuhay somehow didn’t measure up. A rearrangement of fishing trophy photos in the Wheeler drawing room is being planned......

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Snake charmers of the Mahale Mountains

Humans, it would seem, are not the only ones who are afraid of snakes. Chimpanzees don’t much care for them either. And they don’t mind saying so. Roses are red, violets are blue, but this snake was green. Four metres of prime forest cobra with the circumference of a chunky human neck. Alofu spotted it first, half way up a tree, followed by Primus. These two contenders for the alpha male spot following the violent death of Pimu, were both keen to demonstrate who was the bravest. Meanwhile, pandemonium broke out as the rest of the group joined in, vocalizing at full volume.

At this stage, the cobra decided it was time to beat it sharpish but was soon surrounded. Our mesmerized guests watched the confrontation in hushed silence as the snake slithered through the forest canopy, extending its full length from branch to branch, as the chimps tried to shake it to the ground. At this stage there was a certain sympathy for the intruder as the guests and the guides contemplated the prospect of four-metre of prime forest cobra landing on their heads. But snakes are wily creatures and this time it managed to make good its escape leaving the frustrated chimps - and the relieved humans - in peace.

By Richard Madden
Greystoke Mahale

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chimps visit the guests room.

Does Primus have the upper hand? The boys came through camp yesterday and fed in the fig tree in front of a guest Banda. Both Primus and Alofu were their. After lunch the boys sat down for a grooming session behind the Banda, Alofu was groomed by Bonobo and Kalunde was grooming Primus. As they left Primus charged down the path on two legs, we noted that Alofu looked a little nervous. Has he accepted the Beta position?
 Here they come, Primus and Alofu are at the back.

 We couldn't beleive it when the Chimps started feeding right in front of the Banda.
 Primus is in front being groomed by Kalunde with Alofu behind being groomed by Bonobo.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Mahale truce continues....

The inter-regnum continues at Mahale with no outright successor to Pimu. Yesterday the guests saw Primus grooming Alofu and the gesture was reciprocated by Alofu. This is an interesting development as it's the first time these two potential alpha males have been seen together with the rest of the group. The guides tell us that as they were grooming each other there was no aggressive intent so still we have no idea who is in charge. The soap opera in the Mahale mountains continues....
 Prinus in relaxed mode back in the community. Thanks for the great photo. Courtesy of Chris Howard.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Chimp rest day at Mahale.

No news on the Chimpanzees today, they have moved high up the mountain and our guests have decided not to follow them. They shouldn’t stay up for long as there is not much ripe fruit there. Around camp we had another visitor, the wart hog family is feeding on Palm nuts behind the Banda’s and occasionally drinking from the foot bowls in front.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The drama continues,

This morning Chimpanzees walked through Greystoke camp again.  They seem to be coming into camp on a regular basis.
We heard them in the distance and I joined the guests to find out the latest in the leadership saga. There was Kalunde, Fanana, Christmas, Orion, and yes Alofu, we could here other Chimps in the distance as well.
Alofu charged past us on the path picking up any stick or stone and throwing it into the air. Over the lake dark clouds approached the mountains and we could hear thunder and see lightning. I am not sure whether Alofu was reacting to the conditions or displaying to show his clear dominance over the community.
The researchers told me that yesterday Alofu reentered the main community, when he did Primus ran off into the forest. Primus was clearly not around today. Hopefully he has learnt from Pimu’s mistake and realizes if Kalunde is not siding with you then its better to stay out of the way.
Fanana and Christmas enter camp Alofu is already in the tree above them.
Alofu turns as he leaves camp telling the guys it time to go.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The King maker attacks Primus

While Alofu is on a self imposed exile from the main group young Primus is having a hard time winning support from the other males. For Primus to truly take over the Alpha male position he will need a strong alliance with at least one or two other big males. The problem for Primus is that Kalunde the 'King maker' is siding against him
Yesterday Kalunde formed a gang with Bonobo and Darwin then attacked Primus.

Primus came out of it OK but he must be feeling very worried. One thing we don’t want is another murder, but the tensions are building and when Alofu rejoins the group I fear that Primus may be too young and confident to know when to back down.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Primus returns, the fight for Alpha male.

As I sit here writing the Chimpanzee’s are screaming not far from my office. There is turmoil within the community after Pimu’s death and due to the return of Primus who is challenging for the number one position in the group.
Two days ago the Japanese researchers found the Chimpanzees and were surprised to see young Primus leading the group with no sight of Alofu. Primus had a bad cut on his hand from his battle with Pimu but otherwise looked healthy.
It seems the two contenders are playing a game of cat and mouse, each one nervous in the others company.
Later that afternoon two Chimpanzees walked into camp, it was Alofu and Effie. While in camp Effie was constantly hugging Alofu, she looked very nervous.
It’s only a matter of time before the two males have to meet. We know that Primus is a stronger Chimpanzee but it’s not all about strength, the question is who will Kalunde, ‘The King maker’ support? Will Alofu be happy slotting back into the beta position?

Effie clinging to Alofu's back as they leave camp.

Looking sophisticated at dinner.

Mahale hosted its first black tie dinner the other night. Ferdinand carried his black tie half way around the world and into remote Mahale for a special occasion on Saturday night. We have never had such well dressed guests. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Darwin's back

Darwin is back amongst the main group of male Chimpanzees, yesterday he walked past the guests brushing there clothes with his shoulder. It’s a typical Darwin trait to approach people and brush past them, sometimes he even tugs at your cloths!
Primus is still roaming the outskirts of the territory by him self, the good news is that he was spotted by one of the Japanese researchers and seems unharmed.
 One of the last photo’s taken of Primus during the initial scuffle with Pimu.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Life may be a bit easier now for the lower ranked Chimpanzees

While the big boys are sorting out their new rankings with in the community one of the lowest ranked males must be relieved that Pimu is no longer around. On several occasions we have watched Michio being beaten by Pimu. Michio walked through camp 3 days ago not far from the new Alpha male, Alofu. He sat and fed outside a guest's Banda then following the other males.
 Michio's characteristic lower lip droop makes his face look longer.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Alofu is the Alpha male

Our guests found the male Chimpanzees in their southern territory. It was the first time we had seen them since the assassination. Alofu was in charge and was accompanied by Kalunde, Bonobo, Fanana, Orion, Carter, Christmas and Michio.
The guys were in an agitated state and our guests witnessed several of the lower ranked males displaying in there characteristic hyper state with hair bristling, arms and legs stomping the ground,  running on two legs then swinging on low branches.
Noticeable in their absence were Primus the former number 3 and Darwin.
Our trackers and guides can identify most of the Chimpanzees by there distinctive calls and they could hear a solitary Chimpanzee in the distance, it was Darwin. After Pimu’s death Darwin sat by himself for hours in a tree above the body, he was also one of the only male Chimps who tried to defend Pimu. He may now be too nervous to join the group.
We thought Primus would jump Alofu into the Alpha position. We suspect he may have been badly wounded during the fight and has slunk off on his own to lick his wounds. Let’s hope he is OK, it will be interesting to see what happens when he does enter the fray again.
Later in the day as we rested in camp the male Chimps could be heard approaching. They entered around 4pm and the guests had a bonus sighting. I watched Kalunde grooming Alofu who in turn was grooming Fanana, all old freinds.
Every time a distant Chimp called they would stop look around and reply with load pant hoots. Here Alofu stands as he answers a call.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pimu's Legacy

Yesterday our guests waited patiently for news of the Chimpanzees. Our trackers normally rely on the load vocals of the Chimps to locate them. The forest was unusually quite. In the end some guests decided to go for a forest walk while others just relaxed around camp. Our trackers were still looking at 3pm, no news.
At about this time Kiri left our office at the back of camp and as she got to the bottom of the stairs she saw several Chimpanzees. Kiri quickly called me and we rounded up all the guests. It was Christina and baby, Gwekulo, Puffy, Qanat and Quilt, all girls.
It seems that after the recent conflict the community has separated into friend and family units spread out within their territory.
Pimu’s legacy is the 12 healthy under 3 year old's born during his rein as Alpha male. It’s great to see Christina's baby doing well.
Today our trackers have found big males in the southern part of their territory, I'm looking forward to hearing the news. Has Kalunde decided Primus should take over and live up to his name, will Alofu be content to resume his beta male position?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Is Alofu the new Alpha?

Just hours after Pimu’s murder Kiri and I accompanied the Japanese researchers to the sight of the Pimu’s demise to bring the body back for research.
Only 10 minutes walk from the sight we encountered several chimpanzees grooming on the path. Two ringleaders of the assault, Alofu and Kalunde, where there and looked completely relaxed. It now seems that Alofu has regained his Alpha male status nearly 4 years after he lost it to Pimu.
 I felt nervous when Alofu walked past me on the path, knowing how blood thirsty he was only hours before.
 The only evidence of the fight was a cut to back of Alofu’s leg.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The assassination.

As the dust settles after yesterday’s murder of the Alpha male we are still in a mild state of shock. The brutal side of Chimpanzee behavior is something that we have seen before and has been well documented but it’s hard to believe that they could go to such an extreme. Even after Pimu had passed away Kalunde repeatedly smashed a large stone into his head.
You can see the ruthless aggression in Orion’s face.
Pimu looks dazed and blooded after the first assault, unfortunately for him there was more to come.