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.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Murder in Mahale

Pimu lost his Alpha male position in the Mahale community this morning and his life.
Our guides and guests watched what can only be described as a viscous gang assault by the male Chimpanzees on their leader.
It started peacefully with Primus grooming Pimu. Suddenly Pimu turned and bit Primus and the fight started.
 Effie and Vera tried desperately to separate the two big male Chimps. Vera’s baby was hanging on during the struggle.
Primus broke free and started calling for help, Chimpanzees came running from all directions and the assault on the alpha male commenced.
Alofu and Primus led the assault and only two Male Chimps, Fanana and Darwin, sided with Pimu the Alpha. Alofu charged at Fanana and Darwin, Alofu knocking them back. Fanana then sided with the rest of the males.
Kalunde the King maker, asked permission from Alofu then charged into Pimu biting and pounding him with his teeth and arms.
Pimu was left unable to defend himself. Finally the beatings ended and Pimu was left severely wounded, no longer the Alpha male, no longer the leader. Not long after he passed away.

At this stage it is unclear who will be the new Alpha, will it be Primus, young and strong, or Alofu the older wiser Chimp. The coming days will tell.