I want to direct followers to the National Geographic Explorers Journal where my blogs will be posted for the remainder of my field season. Please follow the tag “Gombe 2013″ for up-to-date news on my research, the chimps, and other exciting events!
A couple of months ago, I had a dream that I was sitting alone in the middle of Gombe National Park. This is not actually something that unheard of since I had recently spent six months in a similar such situation. What was alarming about this dream was that I had been teleported back with no warning or preparation, simply torn from my life in the States and dropped in camp. I was panicked and confused, left wondering how I was supposed to get by, until I woke up nestled in my bed in Northeast Minneapolis. It was true that I was returning to Gombe, but, at that point, I still had another few months in the States. I contentedly drifted back to sleep with all the comforts of home surrounding me.
Two weeks ago, that same panicked sensation shot through me again while in a state somewhere between sleep and consciousness. My eyes burst open and I looked around. Instead of the familiarity of my bedroom, I was squeezed between strangers somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean with a bad chick flick playing in the background. This time there was some level of truth to what I was feeling. I was alone and being transported back to Gombe, albeit within the realm of modern technology. Luckily, in contrast to my dream, I had had some level of preparation, though it largely took the form of a three-day, post-holiday shopping spree. In my mind I fervently reviewed the packing list I had made and diligently checked off while packing. Continue reading
Guest Essay by Amy Kocurek
National Park Service Ranger
“Rangers must be interpreters of the mountains, their moods and mysteries…they must serve as guides, philosophers and friends” –Superintendent of Yellowstone Horace Albright, 1929
Interpreting the mountains, the wild animals, the North American wilderness and its’ mysteries; that is what I do. My name is Amy Kocurek, and I am a National Park Service Ranger. Every day I wake-up, put on my green and gray uniform, and go to work in the most beautiful places in the United States. This month I return for my second summer season in Wyoming at Yellowstone National Park. If you were to take a look at my resume you would see that I have also worked two winter seasons at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in Carlsbad New Mexico, and one summer season at Padre Island National Seashore in Corpus Christi Texas. There are many different types of park rangers: law enforcement rangers, resource management, and maintenance to name a few. I am an interpretive park ranger. I take visitors on hikes, safe animal viewing areas, and provide many different types of educational programs for their enjoyment. I do this all in the hope that they will understand why the park they are visiting is important and worth protecting for all future generations to visit. You may have heard the saying, it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey. That being said, I would like to share with you my journey on how I came to be a park ranger, what I’ve learned from this job, and what goals I hope our National Parks will accomplish. Continue reading
I don’t think I could have asked for a better last day in the forest. There were relaxing feeding events in Kakombe Valley, two different bouts of food-callling, a rigorous hike to the top of the ridge and even an altercation with red colobus monkeys…
My focal target was Apollo, a somewhat quirky adult male who is always exciting to follow. We discovered him early in the day feeding on Mabungo Makubwa in the general vicinity of Titan, another adult male. Though he was high above us, we had a great view of him, which is good because he didn’t come down for several hours. Apollo and Titan gradually inched closer to one another as they fed independently in the vine masses above, while my field assistant and I lounged below with binoculars. After feeding independently and silently for over two hours, the two eventually arrived at the same patch of vines and belted out a dramatic pant-hoot chorus. Unexpectedly, it was answered by the distinctively squeaky pant-hoot of Tom, an adolescent male who must have also been feeding nearby. After answering this pant-hoot with one more of their own, Apollo and Titan began a long series of loud rough-grunts (listen here!) and proceeded to feed together intensively for two more hours, eventually being joined by Tom. Finally, four hours after the start of my focal follow, the pitter patter of falling fruit began to slow and the chimps came down from the trees for the first time. After a short bout of grooming, Apollo and Tom left Titan in Kakombe and took off for the land above the waterfalls where Apollo spends most of his time. Continue reading
One night while working in the office on my day off, a boisterous panthoot chorus erupted directly behind me. I was startled by the commotion, as it was already dark and the chimps should have been asleep deep in the forest. After asking around I found out that a large party had nested right on the periphery of the forest, basically in our back yard. This was during the time of Mabungo Makubwa when large parties of chimpanzees were coming together to feed. Needless to say it was extremely easy to unnest the following morning, as I quickly found my focal target, Sampson, with minimal effort.
Being pretty low ranking, Sampson is very skittish around other males. He makes rapid detours around menacing-looking elders and bolts up trees whenever the group starts into a pant-hoot chorus. That morning the large nesting party dissipated shortly after sunrise as different subgroups went off to feed in various choice locations. Sampson had gone off alone to feed in a palm tree and was contentedly consuming palm nuts until the pant-hoots began. Ferdinand and others had come across a large patch of Mabungo Makubwa a short distance away and were carrying on with typical chimpanzee fervor. Sampson climbed down and tentatively made his way towards the others. Upon approaching, Ferdinand made it very clear that he would not tolerate Sampson in close proximity to himself while feeding on the precious Mabungo. Without making much of a fuss, Sampson resigned to an adjacent tree containing a scattering of likely-inferior Mabungo fruits woven among the branches. This pattern continued throughout the day with parties dispersing for awhile and then fervently coming back together again after a new and abundant resource had been discovered. Continue reading
Earlier this field season I talked a lot about how the chimps were moving far and fast as they searched for meager fruits scattered around the park. However, a few weeks ago, thing began to change. The chimps were hanging out all day in Kakombe Valley and in large, boisterous parties. As I am studying their vocalizations, this was good news for my research. It all started with the arrival of Mtobogoro fruits in trees growing along Kakombe Stream (read about an exciting event involving these trees here). However, as only a few trees were fruiting, I figured I would be back following lone chimps through the forest within a week or so. However, then came Mabungo Makubwa.
Back in the day, Frodo was something else (or so I’ve been told). With his large build, self-assuredness and eye for drama, chimps and humans alike would leap into bushes when they saw him coming (he was known to incorporate humans into his dominance displays). These days, however, Frodo has been less than impressive. He is looking quite elderly (yet distinctive) with his grey back, he has lost some weight, he’s been completely disinterested in social interaction, and spends a lot of time hanging around camp. Nevertheless, he is still one of my favorites. Continue reading
Trudging back to camp, hour 13 of my grueling day in the forest, I kept fighting back the urge to curl up in the sand and spend my night on the beach. After all, I had to be right back here by 6am the following morning to un-nest the chimps. Sand is soft right? The main thing keeping me going was the promise of food back home. All I had eaten since I left that morning was half of a power bar and a dinner roll. Legs nearly useless, stomach aching, and feeling a bit faint, I was comforted by the fact that if I collapsed on the ground, the Tanzanian researchers trailing behind would stumble across me. Continue reading
So my focal target has gotten out of his nest and I am now following him through the forest. Now, what do I write down? This can depend on whether I am focusing on behavioral states or events. In general, states are behaviors that last for awhile, like resting and feeding, while events are behaviors that happen quickly, such as producing a vocalization or mating.
For events, you simply need to document the time that they occurred. For instance I could write “Sampson screamed at 9:47:35” (hour:minute:second). However, for states, obtaining information on duration is also important. So, one way to record data on these behaviors is to write down the start and end time of each behavioral state (called “Focal-Animal Sampling”). For instance I would write “From 10:55:43 to 11:03:07 Frodo was feeding ”. In this way I know how long each behavior lasted and when it occurred. Also, for both states and events, it is usually important to include additional information, such as why Sampson was screaming or what Frodo was eating. Continue reading
As I described in my last blog, I am conducting 8 hour focal follows on my target male chimpanzees. Since they are usually awake for 11-12 hours a day, I stagger my follows so that half of the time I am with them right when they wake up and half of the time with them up until they go to sleep. With transport time to and from, this usually means I am in the forest for 10-12 hours a day and go out 5-6 days a week.
The chimps normally wake up between 6:30 and 7:00am. However, they often nest far from camp and we always have to travel uphill to get to them. This means that on the days that I unnest, I have to leave the house between 5:00 and 5:30am. The night before, I pack my bag with the things I will need for the day. These are many of the supplies I showed you in my suitcase. I have my recorder and microphone, binoculars, camera, notepad and pens, and datasheets. I also carry a bottle of water, some water purification tablets (in case I need to refill my bottle from a forest stream), a basic first aid kit, and a poncho for the frequent rain storms this time of year. I stuff all of these things into a waistpack- the biggest thing we can get by carrying in the dense forest. Its a tight fit so I rarely carry any food with me, but when I do, I bring a small bag of peanuts and raisens or a piece of a power bar. The forest is dense and almost everything gets caught up in the vine tangles, so I try to travel as lightly as possible. Continue reading