Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chimp Sanctuary

The day before Anne’s mom arrived here we met a woman working with the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary and when we got to chatting she said there was a tour going out the next day with space for three people so we planned to go.  Unfortunately the boat broke down and the replacement one only had room for one of us.  After a brief discussion we decided that I would go while Anne and her mom went to the Botanical Gardens to do some birding.  This, of course, worked well for me.
It’s a shame we couldn’t all fit on the boat because it was awesome.  The island is a 45 minute boat ride away on Lake Victoria, and it is only about 1 km2 in size.  The chimps roam freely in the forest, but they would destroy it if they didn’t have a supplemental food source, so they get fed four times a day.   All of the chimps there were rescued from one bad situation or another.  Many were orphaned or found in illegal captivity.
 I got to be there for lunch as the chimps came one by one out of the forest and waited for their fruits and veggies.  The alpha male came out of the forest with a testosterone laden swagger and ran around charging the other chimps.  They were all extremely vocal.  I was up on a platform and aside from a barbed wire fence my view was completely unobstructed.  I got to see them close up, sitting down eating, reaching for more food, walking around on all fours, and twice I got to see them doing some brief bipedal walking.  With my good vantage point I was able to get a good look at the faces of several individuals and it surprised me how different they all looked.  Their facial features were just as distinct as ours.  We share 98.7% of our DNA with chimpanzees.  Their social structure was obviously very complex and fascinating to watch.  Lunch was over all too fast though, and one by one they headed back to the forest.

The big, bad alpha male.

Those are hordes of bugs in front of the chimp.

I know it looks like he's laying there reading a book but evolutionarily that's a bit further off.

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