After arriving at the Budongo Research Station we were each assigned to a single room in one large house. The toilet was in the back yard and consisted of a concrete slab with a hole in it. Beneath that was very deep hole in the ground. Zephyr, the always genial manager of the accommodation showed us where to put our feet if we were to be successful with our aim. Very useful advice. And for the novice squatter it’s a bit further forward than you think.
The showers were about 150 meters away. The fire would be lit at 4.00 pm every day, if you wanted to shower before that it would be cold.
It was basic, a bare bulb in a bare concrete room, but a comfortable bed with a mosquito net, a bolt on the bedroom door and on the outside door to keep the baboons out.
Tomorrow would start with a comprehensive briefing followed by a lecture on chimp health. Since chimps are prone to many human diseases, especially upper respiratory tract infections new humans are kept away from them for five days. There is plenty to do, however, in the afternoon we wandered down the Royal Mile for some bird watching.
There are about 700 chimps in the Budongo forest. Two groups, about 150 individuals, have been habituated and are tolerant of human proximity. These are followed, quietly, on a daily basis by visiting researchers and field assistants. The researchers may be doing undergraduate honours research or more advanced studies. The field assistants are the real experts, most have been working at the station for years and all can recognise and name all the chimps by sight or even sound.
Days three, four and five are occupied with phenology, bird banding and then following monkeys.
Phenology (my spell checker hasn’t heard of it either) is the study of the progression of plants, in this case food trees, from budding through leaf formation to fruiting. We followed transects scoring marked trees essentially for their usefulness as primate food sources at that instant. Not the most exciting component of our stay but a 12 km walk in a tropical forest has to be good for you.
The bird banding was our chance to shine. Stay tuned.
Monkeys are definitely more exciting. They don’t come close enough to catch the flu and are excellent practice for following the chimps. With clipboard in hand we watched a target monkey for ten minutes at a time, recording their behaviour and if they ate, their food.
For instance , they might eat young leaves and unripe fruit, move trees, call, groom and resume eating. Or they might spend ten minutes resting. Or they might disappear into foliage and not be seen again in which case you choose a new one to follow.
If we’d had to wait five days for our first glimpse of a chimpanzee we would, by this stage, be at fever pitch. In fact we’d seen chimps every day, we had just had to be well behaved humans and keep a safe distance away to safeguard their health.
Note the presence of mature leaves, ripe and unripe fruit. For the moment please ignore the chimpanzee …