More monkeys …

Nyungwe National Park is home to at least 13 species of primate and in our short time there we were able to add four new ones to our monkey trip list.

Angolan Colobus

There was a baby in the group that we encountered, and just like little humans it was overactive and keen to get some attention …

fortunately for mum they come with built-in reins …

They are initially all white, one of the reasons that mum doesn’t want it exposing itself in the canopy is that they are easy pickings for Crowned Eagles which are monkey specialists and their main predator.

A Mona monkey was feeding on the fringe of the Colobus group.

Mona monkey
Mona monkey

Next up were l’Hoest’s monkeys that had found an abundant supply of unripe fruit.

L’Hoest’s monkey
L’Hoest’s monkey

A troop of Johnston’s Mangabey also put in an appearance but were far less cooperative when it came to photography, keeping their distance and staying well back in the foliage.

Old friends like Chimps and Olive Baboons are also present. There are a couple of nocturnal primates here as well as some other hard to find species.

Chimpanzee …

chimpanzee (n.)

1738, from a Bantu language of Angola (compare Tshiluba kivili-chimpenze “ape”). Short form chimp first attested 1877.

There was a fruiting mango tree in the camp. Chimpanzees had wandered through for a feast every day. We had kept a respectful distance so as to keep our germs to ourselves, now that we had passed our quarantine period we could follow them more closely.

My first full day with them was with the Sonso group, named for the river than ran close to the camp. This was the first group to be habituated and could usually be found without too long a hike.

The aim was to spend long periods with a target individual recording their every activity in ten minute blocks. Their daily life can be summarised in a list of eating, traveling, resting, grooming and sorting out their social life – just like ours.

So far as eating goes, chimps like ripe fruit. They supplement this with young leaves and will also eat flowers. They will ingest clay occasionally. They drink mainly from puddles in tree hollows but we saw a few drink from a stream which is where they found their clay. They also like to eat monkeys.

They travel with ease along the ground or through the trees. They climb by putting their hands beyond the tree trunk, their feet go on the near side. They are expert at making the more slender trees sway until they can make a transition from one tree to the next. And they make frequent use of outer branches to slow their rate of descent towards the ground or a more rigid branch. Their internal map is in 3D, we have given up a dimension.

When they are having a break from eating they are often involved with grooming, usually in pairs or groups of pairs.

Their social life seems to be all about status and sex. It involves a lot of noise and showing off. Human parallels might be bikie gangs or drug cartels, big males capable of forming useful alliances will rise to the top. And stay there ruthlessly until toppled from power.

The Sonso group hunted Colobus twice on the day I was with them and were successful the second time. The field assistants were very quick to recognise their intentions. The group spread out around the Colobus troop, some on the ground, some at mid level and some high in the trees, all making some attempt to conceal themselves. Then a couple of individuals go after the monkeys. Colobus tend to all rush in the one direction which may be the reason they are the preferred target … you can stay concealed until the first one goes past then grab the next.

The successful chimpanzee will then rip open the monkey’s abdomen and start eating the entrails, the monkey might still be screaming at this stage.

Whilst the hunting is communal the eating is definitely selfish. A lucky few will get some meat. They will ignore the most pitiful begging of subordinate individuals. Why then take part? It doesn’t take that much effort and you may win the lottery.

The next day it was off to the more recently habituated group. We found them after about two hours roughly 8 km from camp. They passed the morning slowly moving towards camp. Then the afternoon moving away!

They had a female in estrus with them, the alpha male was guarding her very carefully. For all his efforts though it was a subordinate that got lucky whilst the boss was chasing off the number two male. There was a fair bit more hooting and drumming on trees than the day before, tensions were raised, it seemed.

They didn’t hunt and the field assistants told us that they had not hunted in recent weeks.

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