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Among African Apes

Among African Apes: Stories and Photos from the Field

Martha M. Robbins
Christophe Boesch
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Among African Apes
    Book Description:

    These compelling stories and photographs take us to places like Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, Ivindo National Park in Gabon, and the Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire for an intimate and revealing look at the lives of African wild apes—and at the lives of the humans who study them. In tales of adventure, research, and conservation, veteran field researchers and conservationists describe exciting discoveries made over the past few decades about chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas. The book features vivid descriptions of interactions among these highly intelligent creatures as they hunt, socialize, and play. More difficult themes emerge as well, including the threats apes face from poaching, disease, and deforestation. In stories that are often moving and highly personal, this book takes measure of how special the great apes are and discusses positive conservation efforts, including ecotourism, that can help bring these magnificent animals back from the brink of extinction.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94883-9
    Subjects: Zoology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Who, What, Where, and Why
    (pp. 1-16)

    People’s fascination with chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos and their African habitat is undisputed. Chimpanzees are known for their intelligence, bonobos for their seemingly peaceful nature and highly sexed behavior, and gorillas for their magnificent size and strength. Additionally, people are intrigued, not only by the mystique of the wild apes, but also by the difficulties faced by field-workers living in Africa. One benefit of lots of traveling that I do as part of my job is that I meet many people in the United States, Europe, and Africa. When I explain that I study gorillas, I am typically met with...

  6. ONE Discovering Apes
    (pp. 17-29)

    Being a field biologist is often perceived as much easier and more glamorous than it actually is. Some people may even say that it is not “a real job.” The image is of someone in khakis and safari hat confidently striding through the rain forest, notebook in hand, stopping frequently to glance through binoculars and jot down every move of the nearby apes. While we write down lots of things, we certainly don’t write down everything we see. As with all scientists, we test particular hypotheses or predictions and use systematic methods and protocols that are designed to provide specific...

  7. TWO Life and Death in the Forest
    (pp. 30-42)

    It was midday in early 1998, and the sounds of the African rain forest were getting quieter, because most animals were resting. The sun was bright above us, and in front of me some black fur balls lay on the ground. They all had been resting together for an hour already. At the base of a giant tree, Lefkas slept near his mother, Loukoum, and his young baby brother, Léonardo. Mognié, his preferred playmate, was sleeping not too far away next to her mother, Mystère, and young brother, Mozart. Lefkas was seven years old, just getting more robust, but still...

  8. THREE Encounters with Bili Chimpanzees in the Undisturbed Gangu Forest
    (pp. 43-60)

    It is morning in the Gangu Forest of the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the drumming of the local chimpanzees resounds off the trees along the swampy forest clearing by which we are camped. The apes habitually announce their presence to one another in this way by rhythmically pounding on the buttress roots of trees. The familiar cacophony arouses me from my slumber and sends me lurching into preparation for the day’s work. I feel my heartbeat speed up as if to keep pace with the drumming, and I struggle with my clothes inside the cramped, stuffy...

  9. FOUR Is Blood Thicker Than Water?
    (pp. 61-76)

    The call of the ibis moves through the canopy like a ghost. It’s a sound typical of the forest at dusk, when sunlight disappears behind the wall of dense vegetation. Hearing it during the day makes us wary. Luckily, none of our field assistants are around. Mongo people hate this bird; they hate any animal that moves about when the forest gets dark. A nocturnal lifestyle is considered to be evil. The light of the forest is a dark green. The air is cool and dry and smells like mothballs. Nothing moves—almost nothing. Bonobos can melt into the forest....

  10. FIVE Our Cousins in the Forest—or Bushmeat?
    (pp. 77-87)

    It was May 1987 in Côte d’Ivoire’s Taï forest, and warm sunshine penetrated the dense vegetation. I was enjoying a quiet walk with seven chimpanzees toward the northern part of their territory. Darwin, Brutus, Ulysse, and the others had adopted a leisurely pace so as to inspect all theNauclea diderrichiitrees we passed. The huge nauclea trees with their high, straight trunks and amazingly hard wood, which even termites can’t eat, are very popular with logging companies, whose roads cut through the pristine forests for miles. But here within the boundaries of the national park, chimpanzees could enjoy the...

  11. SIX Discovering Chimpanzee Traditions
    (pp. 88-100)

    There was both concern and excitement in our hushed voices as we confirmed that neither of us recognized this young female chimpanzee who was calmly peering down at us from the low branches of a towering fig tree in the Congo River Basin on a sultry afternoon in May 2002. Dave flipped through his field book, but none of his sketches depicted the graceful features of this female’s light face. She glanced toward the other chimpanzees in the canopy as if to gauge their response to the strange party of bipedal apes who had just arrived with their backpacks, binoculars,...

  12. SEVEN Keeping It in the Family: Tribal Warfare between Chimpanzee Communities
    (pp. 101-115)

    I can hear the waves pounding against the beach in the background, and it lulls me into a reflective silence as I go through the day’s events in my head, wondering how, despite twenty kilometers of patient walking through the woods, I failed to turn up any apes today. It is just before dusk, and I have returned to our coastal base camp after a day spent scouring the forest without success for signs of the elusive chimpanzees that we have been attempting to habituate for the past six months. The sun is setting over the ocean to the west,...

  13. EIGHT Winona’s Search for the Right Silverback: Insights into Female Strategies at a Natural Rain Forest Clearing in Northern Congo
    (pp. 116-128)

    It was another rainy month in the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of the Congo. My research assistants and I were sitting on the observation platform that overlooks the edge of the Mbeli Bai forest clearing. The heavy raindrops were a great relief, because the rain stops the innumerable sweat bees—small nonstinging flies that are attracted to the salts in human perspiration—that would otherwise get into our eyes, ears, and nostrils. They are normally an unavoidable irritation—there is nothing you can do about it.

    It was one of those quiet days with no animals to watch...

  14. NINE The Long Road to Habituation: A Window into the Lives of Gorillas
    (pp. 129-142)

    Another long day has passed. We are on our way back to camp, tired and frustrated. For the fifth day in succession, we have been searching for gorillas since early in the morning, but have only come across a few old feeding remains and found no fresh signs that may lead us to the gorillas. I begin to wonder about the task I have recently committed to, when my thoughts are abruptly interrupted. A terrifying scream echoes from behind our shoulders. We have just walked past a gorilla family! We missed their trail and did not see a leaf move:...

  15. TEN Among Silverbacks
    (pp. 143-154)

    I was hot, sweaty, dirty, muddy, wet, and very out of breath. Following a heavy breakfast of beans and potatoes at camp, we’d been walking for two hours on a roller-coaster ride, up-up-up and down-down-down, up-up-up and down-down-down through the never-ending series of hills of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. Walking, or even simply remaining standing, in this forest is not easy because of the dense network of plants: roots, stems, thorns, and thickets make us trip or slip, or just basically trap us in a maze of vegetation. The field assistants ahead of me tried not to notice that...

  16. ELEVEN The Diversity of the Apes: What Is the Future?
    (pp. 155-172)

    When I first drove from the capital of Côte d’Ivoire, Abidjan, to my field site in the Taï National Park in 1976, the road turned from paved tarmac to dirt some 300 kilometers from my goal, and the forest was visible from the road in many places. I still remember with emotion having to stop to let a mother chimpanzee and her two infants cross the road when I was still about 100 kilometers from the park. Nowadays, when I am driving to my field site, the dirt road starts only 80 kilometers before reaching the park boundary and I...

    (pp. 173-174)
    (pp. 175-176)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 177-183)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 184-184)