Saturday, January 2, 2016

Savannah wildlife

Over time, Chimp & See features different research sites from West via Central to East Africa with diverse habitats and climates to study chimpanzee ecology and behavior. After several West and Central African forests habitats, the current site Dry Lake 11 is the first savannah habitat we worked on. The site and its wildlife presented some new (to us) species like warthogs, green and patas monkeys, crested porcupines, baboons, and for instance our first lions (unfortunately, only two sightings).

The landscape is very different from the dense forests we used to see at previous research sites. The space is more open with grassland and scattered groups of medium-height trees. The environment varies remarkably with distinct seasons. The site is generally drier and warmer with temperatures up to 45 °C in April (the warmest month of the year) and a rainy season peaking in August. With the cameras up at every research site for 12 to 18 months, we could follow the changing seasons very well. During the dry season, multiple species assembled at the subsequently drying out waterholes, warthogs sought relief from the heat in open “caves” and many animals used the cooler hours of the day for foraging and hunting. Wildfires often arise during this time. In July and August, heavy rainfall could be seen in many videos (sometimes very heavy rain will trigger the motion detector of the cameras without animals being present).

A guinea baboon at a waterhole late in the dry season.

A week earlier, this genet still found some water to drink.

Wildfire in a bamboo wood patch
A very welcome attraction of this research site – next to the chimpanzees – is the presence of guinea baboons. They never failed to entertain us – be it at assisting with camera adjustments  or feeding with the help of all four limbs.

Guinea baboons feeding on borassus (palm fruits), hands and feet engaged.

As baboons often travel, feed, and rest together in bigger groups, many social interactions could be observed. The greeting behavior found special interest. In addition to the more familiar hugs, touches, and vocal greetings between two individuals, (mostly) males greet each other with “diddling” (touching each other’s genitals) to assure an “amicable” social arrangement. Baboon infants are an attraction by themselves, not only to the citizen scientist observers, but also for other baboons. They are kind of “kidnapped” (here called “infant handling”) by other group members frequently and sometimes need to be retrieved by their mothers (mostly just from some cuddling).

As this one of the first research sites, SD (standard definition) cameras often with a creaky sound were mostly used here. These cameras with a lower resolution do not constitute a problem for many questions the science team is interested in like species and number of animals recorded, behavioral questions, and e.g., human pressure, but they gave us a hard time to identify and match the chimpanzees present since many features as cuts in ears, scars etc. disappeared in a cloud of coarse pixels. Most of the newer sites however use HD cameras exclusively so this should become less of a problem as newer sites are uploaded to Chimp & See.

Join us at Chimp & See to watch and annotate videos from across Africa!

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