Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Today was the first day that I saw Mamadou since I’ve been back. I’d heard from my Ph.D. student, Stacy Lindshield, who was my project manager at Fongoli from August through December that Mamadou suffered a severe injury, probably a broken hip. At one point, he spent almost the whole day in a nest, and Stacy and the field assistants thought that he probably wouldn’t make it. He turned up, though, after about a month, able to use his left leg a little, but he was an entirely different Mamadou. When I left in August, he was 2nd highest ranking male and had been since 2005, when we were able to discern the complete male dominance hierarchy. Since he was first identified in 2002, I thought that he was probably high-ranking, based on the limited interactions we had seen and based on his behavior, which could be fairly aggressive towards others. He is famous for his water displays, being the only chimp that actually ends a display by leaping into a pool of water (although others will splash through the water as well), while generally the chimps climb into water very carefully, almost always maintaining a hold onto vegetation or the side of a pool. Mamadou is a young male. I estimate that he is around 20 years old, having been socially mature for less than half a dozen years. He was also very muscular previously.

Stacy had informed me how much weight Mamadou has lost but, fortunately, he had gained some back by the time I saw him on this day. He is much smaller, though, to say the least – about the size of a subadult male. He does indeed appear to have broken his hip (actually, probably the head of his femur where it articulates with his hip bone), as his left leg sticks out perpendicular to his body, rather than being in line with his other leg. His foot turns in or rotates backwards when he steps down on it, but he is able to bear some weight on it. I imagine that he probably sustained this injury in a fall, perhaps during a fight between males. These aggressive incidents often take place in trees and involve a lot of risky leaping, etc.

I observed Mamadou for about 3 hours but didn’t pursue him after the party came to Maragoundi, a shady ravine, where I would have been more obvious in my following of him. One of the rules of my protocol is to refrain from following individuals who may be more stressed out by our presence, such as adult females with offspring and the very old male, Ross. Now, it seems, Mamadou falls into that category. Still, it is remarkable that chimps can recover from some of the injuries that they do recover from. I do plan on collecting some data on Mamadou when he is part of a big party or under other circumstances when it seems less likely (to him) that I am targeting him for an observational follow. I want to see how much this injury has affected his behavior, and during the previous three years we had collected more data on Mamadou than probably any other chimp, owing to his excellent degree of habituation (he was never one to be intimidated!).

Mamadou has fallen in the ranks of the male dominance hierarchy, although I’m not certain just how far he has fallen, now that he has regained some of his strength. When I saw him first encounter the party I was with today, he pant-grunted (a sure sign of submission to a dominant individual) to K.L. (formerly 2 ranks below him) and Lupin (formerly 4-5 ranks below him in August), but he did not pant-grunt to Karamoko (formerly 7 ranks below him) upon Karamoko’s approach. It was thought that, when he first appeared following his month of absence, he was subordinate to virtually all of the other 10 adult males.

I’ll keep you informed on Mamadou – most of the researchers and visitors to Fongoli have taken a liking to him – I think due to his strong personality (we would say, if he were human). He is one of my favorite chimps, although, as a scientist one is not supposed to have favorites. That is hard to accomplish, being human and all, so I try to recognize any potential bias my feelings about the various chimps might have on my data collection. I think that, as a primatologist, denying such attitudes or feelings is more dangerous than assuming we are completely free of bias. At any rate, more to come on Mamadou...

No comments: