Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fongoli chimps' 2012 year in review!

A lot of things happened at Fongoli in 2012, but here are some highlights. New female transfer Eva arrived about the middle of the year, and other arrivals included Nickel's new baby boy Vincent, early in 2012, and Tia's son later on in the year. Lily (transferred in over a year ago to Fongoli!) also had a male infant late in 2012. Vincent, Toto and Louis, respectively, are doing fine although with the tragic loss of Tia to snakebite late in the year, Toto is no longer with his group. Toto was only 2 months old when his mother died, and he would not have lived without being nursed by a lactating female. The chance that a female that already had an infant would also adopt Toto was so slim that we chose to rescue him and are currently involved in his care. We have several options in mind for Toto and are hopeful that all will go well for him.

(Photo of Toto courtesy Stacy Lindshield)

Toto's sister Aimee was weaned when her mother died, but she was only five and a half and would have still stuck close to Tia for several years. She seems to have been adopted by the former alpha male Lupin. Older males Bandit and Siberut also look out for Aimee, waiting for her when she lags during long-distance travel. These males as well as others allow Aimee to take food from them sometimes, as she would have done from her mother. Aimee was taken from Tia in 2009 but confiscated by our team and returned to her within 5 days. She was able to spend 3 more years with her mom until Tia met her unfortunate fate.
(Photo of new alpha male David)

In other news, young male David supplanted alpha male Lupin early in 2012. David was able to do so because he had support from his brother, second-ranking male Mamadou. Exiled former alpha male Foudouko was seen quite a few times following David's rise and Lupin's fall. He is no longer habituated to human observers, after being peripheralized for several years, so the dynamics of what is going on with Foudouko and the rest of the community remain to be teased out over time. The chimps racked up over 35 more tool-assisted hunting cases, and we have a total of well over 200 cases overall and hope to examine individual differences in tool-assisted hunting behavior in new analyses.

In Neighbor Ape (our non-profit organization) news, we have made great progress on the OBRAR dormitory project and were once again able to fund schoolchildren of different ages in Kedougou and Tambacounda, as well as a nursing student in Dakar. We donated a year's worth of school supplies to the village of Djendji again, and we are embarking on a new collaborative healthcare project with the Senegalese OBRAR organization. Neighbor Ape also earned a permanent spot on the Global Giving website after a successful fund-raising campaign! Thank you again to all of you who have given us support!

All in all, even though there were definitely some sad events, 2012 was a pretty good year for the Fongoli chimps and for Neighbor Ape too. Let's hope 2013 is prosperous as well!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Congratulations Dondo "Johnny" Kante on being Educator of the Month!

Dondo Kante serves as the Conservation Steward for the Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project, as well as the Project Manager for the FSCP. He has worked for the FSCP since 2001, and he also helped initiate the OBRAR project, an organization based in Senegal that works to provide opportunities for the minority Beudick group. You can read more about Dondo's amazing work to help people as well as chimpanzees on the Primate Education Network's website. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Boyer of the Faleme Chimpanzee Conservation project in Senegal, with whom Dondo collaborates).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bandafassi Area Chimpanzee Conservation Project in Senegal

Dr. Maja Gaspersic reports on her research as part of the Bandafassi Area Chimpanzee Project, which stemmed from the Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project as part of a comparative database of chimpanzees living in southeastern Senegal. The project is also part of Neighbor Ape organization's objective to conserve chimpanzees in Senegal as well as providing for the welfare of people living alongside them.

The Bandafassi area project covers a wide geographical area in Senegal (>500 km²) including at least 5 chimpanzee communities in rare forest patches. Due to intense habitat degradation savanna apes are more endangered than ever. However, preliminary estimates from surveys undertaken by Souleye Ndiaye (Director of Senegal's National Parks Service) in May 2011 are encouraging and indicate the Senegalese population may number up to 500 chimpanzees. Additionally, 2 of our main study areas (Angafou & Nathia) were recognized as priority sites for chimpanzee conservation at one of the USAID/Wula Nafaa meetings on chimpanzee conservation in Senegal based on Director Ndiaye's report.

We established a surveillance system based on Janis Carter’s chimpanzee conservation projects in Guinea and further east in Senegal. Identified forest-guardians or eco- rangers monitor the ranging behavior of chimpanzees and at the same time prevent crop-raiding and attacks on domestic animals. Conflict between people and chimpanzees over the latter's predation on goats and mango fruits was partly resolved. These activities depend on continuous funding so that local residents can help protect their natural resources, and more scientific support for research projects would be beneficial as well. We continue to monitor sites at the periphery zones to better understand the relation between humans and apes in a seasonally disturbed habitat. The study area is at the border with Guinea and should be included in collaboration between neighbor countries.

The foundations for the sustainable community-based chimpanzee conservation in Bandafassi area have been laid, but funding is being sought for the long-term support of the project. Besides ecotourism as a conservation incentive I would suggest sustainable harvesting of wild resources (particularly Saba and baobab) and include the products in international fair-trade, organize workshops on bio-horticulture (eco-gardening, seed-bank) and use of traditional medicinal plants. Chimpanzees at Bandafassi live in small isolated communities along increased population of humans, who are vital for their protection. Along with the involvement of local authorities, there is a need collaboration with international agencies to ensure the project's success.

Photo of people of the village of Nathia.

Neighbor Ape donates school supplies to Djendji village

Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project researcher and Iowa State University Ph.D student Stacy Lindshield sent this report about our organization Neighbor Ape's conservation & education efforts:

On Tuesday, October 30th, Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project manager Dondo "Johnny" Kante, Fongoli village chief & retired head field assistant Mboule Camara, research assistant Ulises Villa-Lobos and Stacy went to Djendji village to donate a year's worth of school supplies to Djendji students.

Photo by Stacy Lindshield of Mboule Camara with donated book supplies and Djendji chief & schoolchildren. October 2012, Djendji, Senegal.

They presented two boxes of school supplies courtesy of our Neighbor Ape nonprofit organization to the chief of the village, and sat with him and few other gentlemen at his place to discuss the project. The chief was grateful for this gift. He thanked us, said that the project is very good for the community, and hopes that the project continues to be successful for many more years to come. He and the other gentlemen then said a prayer for us and the project. Afterwards, he said that he prays for us and for the project so that we will continue to work here.

The chief asked how many new babies were born in the Fongoli group over the past year. He thinks that there are more chimpanzees here now than there were before, because prior to the project, people would come here from time to time to kill a chimpanzee for medicine. Now, with the project seeking to conserve this group, future generations will know about chimpanzees and continue to live alongside them. He said that, overall, the chimpanzees are very good, but that they steal honey too often from people. He didn’t seem upset about the honey issue, but perhaps mentioned this as a way to say that living alongside chimps is sometimes difficult.

Monday, June 25, 2012

It's hunting season yet again at Fongoli!

Back at Fongoli again – June 10, 2012

The first day back is always exciting, but the fact that the whole community of 32 Fongoli chimpanzees was together near Sakoto ravine, the site of their soaking pool and cave, was an extra treat! There were several hard rains in May, but there had been a dry spell for almost two weeks, so the chimps were localized around the pool, drinking and doing some soaking daily. The water level was not very high in the pool, and the water was pretty dirty, as the leaves and other detritus that gathered there since the pool was full of water some 6 months previously had not yet been washed out. Still, a few die-hard water babies like Bandit sat in the pool for up to 20 minutes at a time, vacating only when a dominant individual came to get a drink and cool off.

Tool-assisted or “spear” hunting coincides with the onset of the rainy season, and my main field assistant Michel Sahdiako has noted that adolescent female Sonja has already tried her hand a couple of times. No bushbabies yet, although she received an unhappy surprise when she roused a genet during one bout! I expect the genet gave her a shock because it was so much larger than a bushbaby and would have had to run out past her, unlike a bushbaby, which would have hopped off, had it been so lucky to escape. The Fongoli chimps don’t eat genets, a catlike creature that is related to the mongoose family. I imagine this is the case because of their unpleasant scent glands, but we have observed a few of the chimps capture and play with young genets – a scenario that ultimately did not end well for the genets!

At any rate, the first day I was back with the Fongoli chimps, adolescent female Fanta was indeed so kind as to give me a glimpse of bushbaby hunting! Before the chimps got very far from Sakoto in the morning, she fashioned a tool from a live tree branch, trimmed off the side branches and leaves and modified the tip with her teeth. No luck for Fanta yet either, but she is the most prolific Fongoli chimpanzee hunter, accumulating over 23 bouts now – at least according to our records. She supplanted adult female Tumbo from the top position, but Tumbo is still the most successful hunter, capturing a bushbaby in over one-third of her hunts.

The next day, true to form, Sonja decided to hunt again. She spent quite a lot of time, making, using and discarding four different tools, before she abandoned the cavity. From her behavior, I deduced that she did not detect bushbaby presence, which is what I believe accounts for most failed hunts, although there have been times when it appeared clear that a bushbaby was present but could not be captured. In one case, I was able to climb up and search inside the cavity myself, after Lucille and two other chimps were so obviously vigorous in their attempts that I was sure a bushbaby must be there. There was indeed a very angry and slightly injured bushbaby – it had cuts on its head from the “spear”. I assume it survived, as these cuts seemed somewhat superficial. The bushbaby was not very far down in its cavity, but it appeared to have a side area that it could squeeze back into, avoiding the full effort of the chimps’ jabbing and stabbing.

On my third day back with the chimps, a hard rain and windstorm swept up. Bushbaby hunting is sure to start up again with a vengeance now. We normally record between 40 and 50 hunts per year during this season and have over 200 cases now. With this sample size, I hope to be able to discern individual chimpanzee differences, and we can begin to see patterns of learning in the offspring of the female hunters. My field assistant Waly Camara also reported that, about 10 days before I arrived back at Fongoli, he witnessed adult male Bandit and adult female Farafa using the same type of “spear” tools to stab at a leopard hiding in a small cave near their dry season water source! The leopard escaped in that instance.

Finally, an interesting incident also occurred on my first day back, involving adolescent male Lex and a chameleon! The Fongoli chimps are averse to most reptiles – we’ve recorded over 20 such encounters, most with potentially lethal snakes – and the chameleon seems no exception. Lex was intent on following and harassing the little lizard and even tossed it by its tail at one point. Of course, a number of other immature chimps had to come investigate, but juvenile Sounkaro, Lex’s younger sister, was too frightened of the chameleon to do much with it after it tried to bit her. Sonja chased it away, and I’m happy to report it seemed to escape – unhappy, judging from its mottled black and green color, but hopefully none the worse for wear!

P.S. Since I wrote this about 2 weeks ago, we've seen more hunts, so that we now have over 20 so far this year! Sonja and Fanta are in the lead, but subadult female Lily and young adult male Bo are the only successful hunts we've seen so far. K.L. also snagged a bushbaby, but I was unable to detect how he obtained it, so he doesn't make the official list, and he didn't share what appeared to be a younger bushbaby either! On another day, both Lupin and Siberut were seen with captured vervet monkeys, and there was some sharing on that day, however. The chimps also had another interesting reptile encounter - this time with a python! They found it in a small water hole after a big rain, and it was about 2 meters long. They filed by and screamed at it but left without doing much more to it. A lot of excitement during my first 2 weeks back at Fongoli!

The photo above is of some of the 25 or so hunting tools used by the Fongoli chimps so far this year...the one on the bottom of the photo was the tool used by adult male Bandit to try and stab at the leopard!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Watch the Fongoli chimps in the full-length BBC documentary now available!

Watch the full-length BBC documentary that features the Fongoli chimpanzees. The grasslands episode of "How to Grow a Planet", which is called "The Challenger" can now be viewed at

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fongoli chimps featured in BBC documentary

The Fongoli chimpanzees were recently featured in a BBC documentary series called "How to Grow a Planet". Episode 3 is entitled "The Challenger" and is all about grasses. Since the Fongoli chimpanzees live in a savanna habitat where the predominant vegetation is grass, they are featured in this episode that talks about the influence that grasslands had on the evolution of our own species. You can see a film clip from the documentary, which aired in the U.K. in April here:
(Image of Fongoli female chimpanzee 'Nickel' courtesy of the BBC)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Neighbor Ape earns permanent spot on Global Giving website!

Neighbor Ape organization rose to the challenge and - with your help! - raised enough money to meet Global Giving's April Challenge! We raised over $4,000 ($4,230 to be exact!) from over 50 unique donors (62 actually!) to earn the right to partner with Global Giving! The amount we raised in the April Challenge will allow us to pay for expenses for conservation education workshops in 14 different villages, to fund 18 village children for one school year in Kedougou or Tambacounda and to fund a nursing student in Dakar for one full year! Global Giving works with grassroots organizations to do good around the world! Please check out our page on their site! (Photo above of children of Djendji village in their classroom. Neighbor Ape has been able to donate a year's worth of school supplies to Djendji for two years now!)
Photo of Fongoli chimpanzee female "Tumbo", courtesy of Joshua Marshack.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Dormitory is going up!

Neighbor Ape and OBRAR (Senegalese organization) have begun construction on the dormitory that will allow Beudick children in outlying villages to live in and attend school in Kedougou. This video shows the first step in the process (following land purchase, of course!): brick making! Over 10,000 bricks were made. Volunteers from OBRAR assisted the brick-makers. The bricks are now being "cooked", and construction will begin shortly. This particular project is made possible by the kind donations of Drs. Harold Marder and Jewel Slesnick! More videos soon! (and chimps news coming soon also!)