Monday, August 19, 2002

A VISIT TO THE CHIMPANZEES OF KIBALE

Monkey business
Kibale, Uganda
Mark Cocker
Monday August 19, 2002
The Guardian

Kibale, Uganda: This 760 square kilometre block of rainforest is one of the best places in Africa to see chimpanzees. The huge increase in chimp numbers during the last decade is a measure of this desperately poor country's extraordinary conservation achievements. If population estimates prove correct during the next census, then Kibale holds the highest density of chimpanzees found anywhere in the world.

A single troop of around 90 individuals has been slowly habituated to human company, which means that tourists can trek to watch them. Our visit was fortunate to coincide with the fruiting of a huge fig tree, ficus mucuso, and this was the background to a wonderful spectacle. As we watched eight chimps of varying ages, from small infants to full-grown males, I realised we were witnessing the world's original affluent society. Reclining in a manner reminiscent of banqueting Romans, the chimps merely had to reach out to obtain handfuls of the super-abundant fruit. After extracting the juice, each chimp would spit out great gobbets of fig pulp that sprayed down upon the neck-craning observers below. In turn this drew in a host of exquisitely beautiful butterflies to the forest floor.

Slightly more disconcerting was the inevitable consequence of the chimps consuming such copious volumes of fluid. If we were not careful, these regular warm showers would come cascading down upon our heads. One wag noted that the last ape to urinate on him from a great height was his work boss and that this occasion was a decidedly more fulfilling moment.