A year has passed, seemingly in the blink of an eye. My field research studying these chimpanzees has drawn to a close. From here, I’ll prepare to begin my genetic analyses at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
This is our last week of data collection. It was supposed to be a laid-back week to collect a few more samples and enjoy a few final days tracking chimpanzees, a fieldwork victory lap of sorts.
Dr. Jane Goodall recently paid a brief visit to Uganda. As a primatologist and advocate for animals and the environment, Dr. Goodall travels the world about 300 days a year to educate and inspire people of all ages.
It had been a long day in the field and we were all exhausted. I crawled into bed amid a thunderstorm and listened to the loud claps of thunder and the rushing sound of rain falling on the ground outside.
We recently embarked on data collection in a new community of chimpanzees. They were new to us, that is, though we had heard a great deal about them.
Their chorus of pant hoots gave them away in dramatic fashion. The chimpanzees we’d been looking for were nearby, and we knew exactly where to find them.
Recently, a dear friend came to visit us here in Uganda, so we decided to take the opportunity to visit Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, home to one of the world’s only two populations of mountain gorillas ( Gorilla berengei berengei ).
Though my study covers a broad geographic area, encompassing the home ranges of numerous chimpanzee communities, we have focused substantial attention on one community in particular.
Greetings are very important in Ugandan culture. Where we work, it is customary to greet those you encounter with a standard exchange in Runyoro, the local language here.
It was a day off from the field, an opportunity for a bit of mental respite and physical relaxation. The quiet peace of the day was halted, however, when I received an alarming text message from my field assistant, Nick.
Fresh nests and fecal samples. We knew the chimpanzees had nested nearby. Not having seen any signs of their continued presence, however, we assumed they had already left their nests and traveled elsewhere to forage.
Humans are very poorly adapted to a chimpanzee lifestyle. I am reminded of this on a nearly daily basis as we trace the locations where chimpanzees have been hanging out.
October 30th marked the five-year anniversary of the death of my friend Washoe. Washoe was a wonderful friend. She was confident and self-assured. She was a matriarch, a mother figure not only to her adopted son but to others as well.
A trusted Ugandan colleague called one afternoon to share the news that he had found someone whom I might hire as a field assistant. Jack and I met with our colleague and the prospective hire, Nick, an hour later in town.
The first days of a research trip follow a characteristic pattern among the field researchers I know. The story goes something like this. Step 1: Arrive in capital city.
After weeks spent packing, moving from our apartment, and traveling, my partner Jack and I have finally arrived in Uganda. Though it will still take some time to get settled into the place we’ll call home for the next year, a currently empty house in western Uganda will soon begin to feel familiar.
I’m busy packing up and getting ready for Uganda this week. As I’ve increasingly turned my attention toward my upcoming trip, I’ve been thinking of all the things I’m anticipating.
In a mere two weeks, I’ll head back to Uganda for a year to collect data for my PhD thesis. For one year, I’ll collect data on chimpanzees in forest fragments, small patches of forest that remain amid a sea of human-altered landscape.