Saturday, April 21, 2018

Chimp&See’s 3rd anniversary: Meet the neighbors of the “Ngogo chimps”

Chimp&See started three years ago on Earth Day, April 22nd, 2015. It’s our anniversary and like every year, we want to celebrate with some background information and a big THANK YOU to now almost 10,000 volunteers!

In the last three years, the project featured camera trap footage from 13 different research sites in three regions of the entire chimpanzee distribution, namely in Western, Central, and Eastern Africa. Missing until now is only Region B that is home of the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee subspecies (Pan troglodytes ellioti) and will be up on Chimp&See very soon! All temporary research sites are set up to study chimp communities that no researcher has studied (not even seen!) before or in collaboration with established long-term research sites. In the first case, an initial search for chimpanzee signs (e.g., nests, tools, vocalizations) is performed and when chimps are present, the cameras are set up and run for at least 12 months. In the case of a collaborative site, the infrastructure and local knowledge of the long-term project is used, but the field team aims for an unhabituated chimp community nearby.

At Chimp&See the research sites are then getting pseudonames, e.g., “Dry Lake”, to protect the animals, but also current and future researchers, from a potential interest of poachers and other dangers. The sites usually can only be identified to the region in the maps that display after each classification.

For this anniversary, we want for once break the rules and tell you exactly where we are. “Green Snowflake” is a collaborative research site in Kibale National Park in southwestern Uganda. Here the Pan-African program worked together with the Ngogo Chimpanzee Project Inc. to study a neighboring community to their main study group that is with more than 200 individual members the biggest known wild chimpanzee community.


The cameras had been installed in what was thought clearly outside their territory, but as it happened, the Ngogo chimps used a part of the study site, too. In addition, chimps routinely patrol the borders of their territory and venture outside when circumstances (that means here foremost: strength in numbers) allow. So unexpectedly, but luckily, we could get a glimpse at some Ngogo chimps when a big group of males, followed by field assistants, crossed in front of the cameras. Those, who are familiar with the Ngogo chimps, might even be able to identify some of them. This territorial aspect, the boundary patrols, and a partly violent path to enlarge their own territory – as well as several memorable individual Ngogo chimps – are also highlighted in last year’s documentary “Rise of the Warrior Apes” (Discovery Channel). If you get the opportunity, you should check it out!


But the majority of the Green Snowflake chimp videos show an unhabituated neighbor community of Ngogo – and it doesn’t mean that they are at the lower end of this territorial struggle! In fact, most chimp videos here show rather idyllic groupings for feeding, travelling, or play. What “our” community shares with the Ngogo chimps is a rather favorable environment of old and new forest mostly undisturbed by human activity (like logging). Although, we’ve seen them largely feeding on wood or clay as the cameras are terrestrial, the area has many mature fruiting trees and the chimps here also have an appetite for meat and hunt monkeys, with a preference for the cute red colobus monkeys. They also share, unfortunately, the dangers of snare injuries as we’ve seen in several individuals here.

If you’ve already seen Green Snowflake videos, you probably encountered the field team maintaining the cameras. Samuel Angedakin, was the PanAf field site manager responsible for setting up the “data collection zone” according to their field protocol. This included not only installing the camera traps for taking video footage (as seen now at Chimp&See), but also collecting other data and samples (plants and other environmental organic materials) to inform about ecological factors, as well as feces and hair samples for genetic analyses of chimp demographics. Sam is currently the field manager at the Ngogo Chimpanzee Project Inc. and will start his PhD at Makerere University in Uganda in fall this year.

Sam Angedakin, the PanAf field site manager for "Green Snowflake"

So, if you want to watch “Ngogo’s Neighbors” at Green Snowflake and help us classify camtrap videos, come over to Chimp&See and check out the great chimp videos, already identified individuals, and all the other animals in the North of Kibale National Park, Uganda.

Many thanks to Carolyn Rowney and Kevin Langergraber, as well as Sam Angedakin, from the Ngogo Chimpanzee Project Inc. for their great collaboration. And as always, a million thanks to all volunteers for getting involved in video annotation and chimp matching as well as always asking great questions!

Bohr, Cassini, and Titan from Green Snowflake wish you a happy Earth Day 2018!

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