Getting To Know Rubondo’s Chimp Trackers : Simon
By Daniel Juma – Rubondo Island Camp Manager
You may have heard about the intriguinghabituation of our Rubondo Island chimpanzees, your interest may have been piqued, and your question is, “tell me more about this once-in-a-lifetime experience?” You can read more about the Habituation Experience here as well as find out how you can be a part of this project.
There are some very special people on the island who make this experience possible – our wonderful chimp trackers. Get to know Simon, one of our trackers and what his usual days look like in this blog.
My name isSimon, I come from one of the villages around Rubondo Island. Due to good relationships between Rubondo National Park authorities and local villages, I got an opportunity in 1998 to join Yohan group to be a part of the chimp’s habituation. It was defining moment in my life – my life changed from being a professional fisher man to a specialist chimp’s tracker.
What made me to be chimp’s tracker?
When I was growing up in our village, I heard about a funny story of chimps on Rubondo Island, thestory includes thatchimpsafter some period of time they change to be human being, and all human being came from chimps. I developed the dream to see the chimps, and when the opportunity came I grabbed it.
How I became chimp’s trackers
I join Yohan team – they were specialist of the chimps, and they gaveusmaximum training on the behaviors of the chimpsand we joined the team on the chimps tracking. I was surprised to learn from the specialist that we share 98.4 percent of DNA with chimps, and they are susceptible to human colds, flusand other diseases, and on daily basis Yohan was checking if we are coughing or having running nose, then he will suggest that we shouldnot go for the chimps tracking if we have issues.
How do we set up for the chimpstracking?
We wake up at 5.30am. Dressed in Khakis from head to toe, a camera banging about my side with telephoto lens, then 6.00 am we start the safaris with motorbike to certain point, then we pack our motorbike, and start walking towards the point will left themin theevening the day before.
How do we know where the chimps are?
Always we stay with the chimps up to late evening, and there is a high probability that the chimps always make their nests in the evening and they won’t move very far when it is dark. The following day when we start chimps tracking, we start from the point we left them, in most cases the entire chimps troop let out whoops and calls, high –pitched screeches as a wake up call.
The entire group start descending from the trees to the ground and start looking for food, especially fruits. Chimps are much faster than average human and they have adapted to negotiating the jungles. We will keep on following them up the hill, down the hill, sliding, climbing logs and leaves branches snapping back at me. We always take 30 minutes to 6 hours to catch up with the chimps, and it depends on the availability of their food.
The favorite things about chimps
The chimpanzees definitelyhave personality, and they arevery vocal. We always observed them going about their daily activities, from waking to eating to caring for their young and each other, and movingabout to the forest tofindfood. It is fascinating watching their behaviors and seeing how closely they really resemble us humans.
Funniest thing I had seen with the chimps
The chimps using sharp sticks, put the saliva on stick, dip it on the termite’s holes, then remove it and eat the termites.
Favorite’s memory of being with chimps
The firsttime we took a female guestto see the chimps, the male chimp’s stops for a while and took a keen look a the female guests – staring for like 5 minutes!
One thingstotell people about Rubondo chimps
Rubondo Island chimps are very unique in such initially they were in the zoos, being provided with everything, then transfer to wilderness to start a new life, after 40 years plus they are being habituated naturally to get used to people.These chimps are charismatic and diverse primates that hold a key to our understanding of human evolution.
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