Let them eat fish …

A recent post, Game Drive, has been a big winner. With the tags travel and Africa it has attracted a lot of attention. Some posts are like that. This post is about a trip to the Entebbe Botanical Gardens, it’s a great destination, it gives you a chance to get at the shore of Lake Victoria, three species of monkey are well represented and there is also a fourth, it’s a great place to find birds in a big city but it really doesn’t lend itself to a sexy title.

And some of its denizens are certainly not sexy …

Marabou Stork

Others are way more attractive …

Black-headed Heron
Great Blue Turaco
Striped Ground Squirrel

The squirrel stays close to its hole in a termite mound.

The three regular monkey species are Blue Monkey, Vervet Monkey and Colobus. There is a solitary Red-tailed Monkey as well, an escapee from the nearby zoo. The Vervets are adorable …

Vervet Monkey
Vervet Monkey

Just ask them.

What on earth does all this have to do with fish? Miracles and fish have a close relationship. It’s a miracle this Pied Kingfisher could catch and then fly with this fish. If you click on the first photo you can step through the process of swallowing it. First turn it around so that it’s head points down your throat …

 

Meet the monkeys …

Our trial run at primate tracking and data collection was with the monkeys.

Specifically Blue Monkeys and Red-tailed Monkeys.

Blue Monkey
Red-tailed Monkey

Their big cousin, the Chimpanzee, is a ripe fruit specialist although they are not averse to eating monkeys, too. One way to coexist with them is to get in early and eat unripe fruit. We watched them do exactly that, feeding in trees where most of the fruit was green but taking such ripe fruit as was available and some young leaves for variety.

We also got to see them grooming each other, and hear some of their vocabulary.

The other monkeys present in the Budongo forest are the Olive Baboon and the Guereza Colobus.

Olive Baboon

The Baboon seems the odd one out. It has a much more terrestrial way of life and a rather ape-like demeanour, however it is a monkey and is more closely related to the previous two than it is to the Colobus.

They are extremely inquisitive and extremely smart. They are always hanging around the Research station accommodation and would be in in a flash if they got the chance. If that happens no one is game to throw them out … you just wait until they leave and then clean up the mess. Some of the staff on campus have their small children live with them, baboons are a threat to their safety. A baboon control officer is always on patrol near the staff quarters. Most of the time his weaponry is for show, most of the time …

Baboon control officer at work …

This is the real odd one out. Look carefully at its thumb, well actually, look carefully for its thumb. It doesn’t have one, an odd feature for a creature that picks leaves and fruit and climbs trees. You’d think a thumb would come in handy.

Guereza Colobus

 

Budongo …

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.

Our house
The dunny

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.

My room

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.

 

Blue Monkey

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 …