Saturday, December 26, 2009

Chimps and fire!

We just published a brief article on the Fongoli chimps' interactions with wildfires and implications for understanding this aspect of early hominid evolution. The article can be found in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. Here is a link to a couple of news articles about the manuscript:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New article about Fongoli chimps

Just published in the online journal PaleoAnthropology is an article that Paco Bertolani and I wrote about the Fongoli chimpanzees and their behavioral responses to the savanna environment in which they live.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Nickel's tool to be showcased in Smithsonian!

Here is a press release about the new Human Origins exhibit that will open at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. in March 2010. A "spear" tool made by Nickel (mother of Teva, daughter of Nene, and sister of Nellie) will be included.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

After 6 months...Aimee and Tia

Photo of Mike by Frans Lanting

This week marks approximately the 6-month anniversary of Aimee's return to Tia after she was taken by poachers. I spent some time watching Aimee 2 days ago, before I left Fongoli for a brief trip to Tanzania. I was observing Diouf, an adult male who spent a couple of hours sleeping under the shade of a Saba vine "bush". As usual, Diouf stretched out on the ground rather than in the vines themselves or on a bigger limb as some of the chimps do. He is the largest chimp in the Fongoli community, so it was really endearing to see him playing a little with Aimee. A number of chimps came and went below the vines and, for awhile, Tia was lying next to Diouf, resting as well. Aimee, like most youngsters, could not be bothered to do anything as boring as sleeping, so she proceeded to play with whomever was nearby - including Diouf - or just by herself. Infants play quite a bit with their mothers as well, and it was something very special to see Tia and Aimee playing together when you think about the fact that the two were almost separated permanently, with Aimee probably spending her life in the zoo in Dakar.

But, it seems that both mother and daughter have recovered completely - at least physically - from the trauma of the dogs attacking Tia and Aimee, and Aimee's capture and 5 days in captivity (although the last few days were spent in the care of Johnny, which was surely much less stressful than the conditions he found her in). I can't look at either of them without thinking about what a miracle it was they the two were reunited. I also can't believe that I actually carried Aimee out to where the chimps were the day we were able to return her to Tia - as well as feeding her that morning.

Another nice scene below the Saba vines was Aimee playing with Mike - the adolescent male who retrieved her from where we set her down that day she was returned. Mike also carried Aimee for Tia that day and the next, when the group traveled at the end of the day and Tia could not keep up. At any rate, Tia and Aimee are even more special to us than they were before, and it will be a joy to follow Aimee as she grows up in the family she was born to. It was a great last day with the chimps before my 2-week absence from them!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


One of the apparently unique behaviors exhibited by the chimps at Fongoli is a tendency to move around, forage and even travel extensively at night - especially during the dry season during a full moon. Last night I spent the night out with the chimps and, as usual, they didn't disappoint! They settled down around 7 or 7:30pm, when it got dark. Lupin, an adult male, actually made himself comfortable in Lucille's (adult female) nest, so she had to expand her side of it, and he eventually had to expand his side. Lucille's infant, Sounkaro, was also in the nest, but Lucille's juvenile son, Lex, had to make his own to the side. Still, a nice cozy scene.

It seemed like it was going to rain (Finally! The rains are about a month late.). I was wondering what in the world I would do since my camping gear consisted of a throw-away rain poncho and my regular day pack. It didn't rain though, and the chimps were quiet until about 11pm when the moon rose. There was some moving around, but they really started being active when the moon was at its brightest. At about 3:30 am, Tia, an adult female who is currently in estrus, built a new night nest not far from me. Awhile later, an adult male came to "visit" (i.e., copulate) and then built himself a new nest a few meters away from her.

About 4:45 am, the chimps got really active: There was plenty of social interaction, including male displays. Another male came to "visit" Tia. And, a number of individuals ate ripe Saba fruit, which is one of their most important food sources. Around 5:20 a.m., everyone rested until it got light, which is around 6 am these days. At this time, Dondo Kante arrived with James Ewen, the National Geographic cinematographer who is filming the chimps this year. The chimps rested for the next hour, and I left to go back to the village to get some rest and go to town on some errands (I really don't sleep much at night when I'm out with the chimps - between worrying a little about hyenas to waking up to write anything the chimps do at night).

So, our apparently lethargic chimps (according to a manuscript that Paco Bertolani and I have just submitted, Fongoli chimps rest significantly more than chimps elsewhere), are really just not studied enough at night. Something we'll have to include more of in the future!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

News story on Aimee and update on Tia

The local news in Des Moines, KCCI, did a news story last night on the return of Aimee. Both Kelly Boyer and Dondo Kante report that Tia and Aimee are doing fine and that, in fact, Tia is cycling again. This is fairly rare - that a female with such a young infant begins cycling again. Tia began cycling before Aimee was captured by the hunters, so that incident had nothing to do with this resumption in receptivity. There was, similarly, a female at Mahale, Tanzania that began cycling again only 7 months following the birth of her infant. Females at Fongoli resume cycling (based on our small sample size so far...) more quickly than East African chimps and along the lines of what other West African studies have reported (Tai Forest, for example). Some interesting patterns...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fongoli presentation

This is a wonderful presentation by Frans Lanting and Chris Eckstrom on the summer they spent with me, filming and photographing the Fongoli chimps for National Geographic.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Monkeys beware!

It seems the Fongoli chimps have been wreaking havoc on the vervet and baboon populations at Fongoli.  Project manager Kelly Boyer sent this description, along with a report of the latest incident.  Last week, she saw the females with a juvenile baboon.  This description refers to 2 vervet monkey hunts (Bo and his captured vervet monkey are pictured above in a photo taken by Kelly):

"I had told you about Bo the last time and, although I didn't see the hunt, I was able to write about what I saw in terms of begging and food sharing, or lack thereof! This week, however, I was lucky enough to have witnessed the successful hunt of a vervet monkey by Bilbo! The vervet was in the overhead vines that the chimps were sleeping under; he must have been scared out of his little mind and waited at least an hour before he decided to make his escape...unfortunately for him (but fortunately for Bilbo!) his escape was not successful...

Friday, February 20, 2009

So far, so good!

I talked to Dondo Kante on Thursday, and he gave me the good news that Tia's wounds (from the dogs during the incident where Aimee was captured) are almost completely healed.  She and Aimee continue to do well almost 3 weeks after we were able to return Aimee to Tia.  Kelly Boyer also reports that the chimps captured another juvenile baboon this past week.  She didn't see who initially got the baboon, but she saw females eating meat, including Tia, Nickel and Nellie.  If you happen to be in the neighborhood, I'm giving a few talks this spring about the Fongoli chimps at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  I'll also be giving the Presidential Lecture at Iowa State.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Miracle reunion update!

Update on Tia and Aimee - according to co-project manager Kelly Boyer, the two are doing fine.  Johnny Dondo Kante followed the party they were in yesterday at Fongoli.  To hear more about the story of Dondo, Tia and Aimee, you can listen to this podcast of a radio interview I did on Iowa Public Radio's The Exchange:

Friday, February 6, 2009

Update on Aimee and Tia

I got GREAT news today from project manager Kelly Boyer, who has arrived back in Kedougou, and, along with project manager Dondo "Johnny" Kante (the hero of Aimee's chimpnapping story!), is collecting data for me while I finish out the semester at Iowa State before heading back to Senegal.  Here is an excerpt from Kelly's email:

"...things here are good. Tia and Aimee are doing very well. I was able to follow them with Dondo (Johnny Kante) on Tuesday and Wednesday, and they looked great.  I even saw little Aimee fall asleep with Bilbo (an adult male) during an afternoon nap. It was adorable."

Above is a photo of Bilbo, Tia and little Aimee last July, moving across a newly-cut field when Aimee was only about a month or so old...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Aimee's return to Tia

This brief video shows some of the return of Aimee to her mother, Tia.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tia's baby Aimee taken by hunters

I am currently in Senegal but about to return to the U.S., after having dealt with a problem that Johnny Dondo Kante called me about this past Saturday.  An infant had been taken by hunters, and he thought she was probably from the Fongoli chimp community.  He was right, and I flew to Senegal on Monday, arriving in Kedougou on Tuesday.  For now, the ending is a happy one - we reunited Aimee with Tia.  Tia is still not 100% though, due to wounds she received from the hunters' dogs.  This National Geographic Society blog gives more detail about the story, and I'll keep you updated on it as well, when I return to the U.S.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Baby at Fongoli!

The big news this holiday season at Fongoli is that Tumbo (of National Geographic 'hunting with tools' fame) has had her first infant!!  I had just arrived in Senegal for my holiday vacation and was out following the chimps for the second day.  Tumbo has always been well-habituated for a female - as are most of the young chimps who have grown up with us - and I heard someone walking up behind me as I was sitting on the ground, collecting data on a male.  I turned and saw that it was Tumbo and turned back around so as not to rudely stare at her, given she hadn't seen me in 4 months yet was calm as usual in my presence.  As she passed by, she made her presence known by stomping just a little, as if to say "I'm coming through. Stay still.".  I wondered why she felt the need to stomp past - maybe it was because she hadn't seen me in awhile and she felt the need to assert herself...?  I looked again, as she continued and SHE HAD A TINY INFANT CLINGING TO HER BELLY!!!!  Thus, the "careful...!" message as she stomped past. It was December 23rd, and my field assistant and project manager Dondo Kante had seen her on December 3rd with no infant.  So, a December baby - yet to be named, as I can not quite make out if it is a male or a female.  She is a very good mother, holding the infant very close and supporting it each time it hangs away from her body (so I can't see the relevant parts to know whether it will be 'Cy' or 'Cynthia' - a little nod to the Iowa State University mascot, Cy).  Tumbo still travels with the males, as she has been prone to do, but then again the community here is more cohesive in general regarding male-female ranging and social patterns.  It will be interesting to see how Tumbo's behavior changes - or doesn't!  And, of course, to see if baby grows up to be a prolific hunter like his/her mom!