My trip to Kigoma was thankfully uneventful, and I was hoping that things would continue that way. Unfortunately I was wrong, as my departure from Kigoma was delayed for a few days. But, this time the delay was gladly welcomed because it was due to a weekend trip to Gombe National Park! For this unexpected but great experience, I owe a large amount of gratitude to Dr. Anthony Collins at the Jane Goodall Institute (www.janegoodall.org). He happened to be in Kigoma the day after my arrival there to take some JGI guests to Gombe and invited me to come along. After a pleasant two hour boat ride, we arrived at Gombe. We dropped the guests off at the resthouse and made our way to Dr. Goodall’s house, where Dr. Collins stays while at Gombe—staying in Dr. Goodall’s house was another unexpected surprise! And there were more surprises to come. . .
After dinner, I found out that not only would I be spending my two nights at Gombe in Dr. Goodall’s house, but that I would be sleeping in her room! This was an unbelievable experience, as I have admired Dr. Goodall and her work since I was a young child. And the next day was just as unbelievable and exciting . . .
We found a group of chimpanzees within the first hour of our hike into the forest and stayed to watch them for a while. There were two little juveniles playing and wrestling with each other, while their moms and the other adults ate or rested nearby. While we were watching, there were a few small spats accompanied by very loud pant-hooting, which is always amazing to hear (click here to hear what that sounds like: chimpanzee-pant-hoot). After some time, we decided to continue on to see if we could find other chimpanzees. We soon came across another small group of chimpanzees, including Gremlin (who is one of the more publicized chimpanzees, known for successfully raising twins) and her newest offspring, Gizmo. They disappeared soon after we saw them, so we decided to continue on our way. We came across a termite mound and stopped to have a closer look. This was very fortunate, because not too long after, Gremlin (with Gizmo) and two of her older children approached the mound and began to fish for termites! We stayed and watched in awe as they searched for the perfect fishing tool, carefully placed it into the termite mound and then pulled it out, bringing the termite-covered tool up to their mouths for a tasty treat. When the chimpanzees were finished termite fishing, we decided to end our day with that fantastic experience and made our way back to Dr. Goodall’s house for a late lunch. I went to sleep that night still in disbelief of how amazing the past few days had been.
After the boat ride back to Kigoma, it was time to pack-up and make my way to the field site. The Jane Goodall Institute was generous enough to let me hire one of their drivers and cars to make this first trip out to the field site with all of my equipment as hassle-free as possible. We loaded up the car and started driving to Uvinza, where we would buy food supplies for the next few weeks. After stopping in Uvinza, we continued on to Issa and slowly made our way up steep slopes and across dry riverbeds to the campsite. There was just enough time for me to set up my tent before it got dark. I decided that I would unpack everything else the next day.
These first two weeks at camp have gone by extremely quickly. I have been walking up and down steep slopes almost every day with the field assistants getting to know the area a bit better and have slowly started my own research project. I have been going to bed each night extremely exhausted and hoping that my body will get “into shape” soon. But hearing the chimpanzees during the day and seeing lots of other animals (a bushpig, rock hyraxes, bushbuck, duikers, birds, lizards…) while out walking are all the motivation I need to get up the next morning and do it all again.
I wish that I had the time to share more, but my time in Kigoma is limited. While this trip to Kigoma was a welcomed break, the next trip will not be for another whole month. At that time, I should have much more progress to report and more exciting stories to share!
In the meantime, I wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!