Hi Everyone!!! My name is Ed Wright and I am 29 years old and from the UK. I have just finished about 16 months of field work here at ITFC, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. I am a PhD student at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, which is a research institution based in Leipzig, Germany. I would dearly like to share with you some of my experiences, so sit back, relax and read on…
Sharing about my study at ITFC
I arrived in August 2010 after spending a short while in Germany preparing my project and making sure I knew what I was going to come here to do. Before I embarked on this project I was working with unhabituated (not used to human presence) gorillas and chimpanzees in Gabon. This time I was coming to study gorillas on the opposite side of tropical Africa in “the pearl of Africa”, Uganda. I was very excited to see how different it was and felt very lucky to once again be working with amazing animals in very beautiful parts of the world. Martha Robbins, my supervisor and project director told me that Uganda was really very different from Gabon. I remember her saying: “Do you like mountains and beans?” Luckily I like both and I came to realise that if you don’t, Bwindi is not the place for you! 🙂
The drive up from Kabale (which is about 10 hours from Kampala, the capital) reminds you that you are in an extremely populated part of the world. Every corner of land is used for agriculture even up to the park boundary. Yet once you go through the park gates you enter a magical world high up in the steep hills of this Impenetrable National Park, right in the South West of Uganda.
I was impressed straight away; the hills looked like the “real business”. I enjoy mountaineering and I saw immediately this was going to be good fun. Terrifically beautiful, with monkeys enjoying themselves in the trees and with duikers running around.
When I arrived at ITFC, which was going to be my home for the next 16 months, I was happy to see that it is a well established research station. Some field sites are pretty basic and very remote, ITFC was for sure a step up from what I was used to. I was warmly welcomed by the other researchers here at the institute and other members of staff. These people became my friends and with whom I shared many gorilla stories and also heard about their experiences in and out of the forest.
I was here to record detailed gorilla feeding behaviour and to see how the distribution and density of food affects their social relationships. To implement this, I worked with a gorilla group which is reserved for research, called Kyagurilo. The research group is habituated to our presence, which means that to them we are part of the scenery – just like another tree in the forest if you like. Obviously we do not interact with them as this would change their natural behaviour which is precisely what we are there to record. It is a lovely group of gorillas which at the moment is composed of a silverback called Rukina, 2 blackbacks, 8 females, two juveniles and 5 infants. During the last 16 months I have come to know these gorillas extremely well.
I vividly remember my very first day with the gorillas as if it was just the other day! They were feeding in a small swamp eating thistle. It was a very special experience that first day, being surrounded by a group of gorillas, and it still is to this very day!
Recording detailed gorilla feeding behaviour is no easy job I can tell you. During my first few months collecting data I was finding it difficult to keep up with the gorilla I was observing. There is a lot of understory vegetation here at Bwindi, the gorilla would just disappear into it and I would struggle to keep up, especially as one needs to be really careful when walking amongst gorillas (the last thing you want to do is to bump into a large mammal weighing 200kg!). Also walking at angles of 65 degrees isn’t easy at all! But after a lot of patience and hard work things became easier with time. However, it is no use complaining, I work in a tropical high altitude rainforest after all, one has to expect lots of rain and lots of steep hills!
Data collection during the gorilla census in Bwindi
I have often been asked what is the most special gorilla behaviour I have experienced… this is a tricky question as I find practically all gorilla behaviour really interesting. But the following are a few. I was extremely lucky to witness a baby gorilla come into this world. Normally females will deliver when they are at their nests (when we are never with them), however this time it just popped out. I was touched to see such a rare and special event. Then, as soon as the infant was born, the mother started to chew on the umbilical cord and proceeded to eat the placenta (in nature nothing goes to waste!). I wouldn’t call that a ‘beautiful’ experience but it was definitely a very special one.
The Family with the newborn
The other thing that happened which comes to my mind was when I was watching this female gorilla; it was a warm sunny morning and this gorilla was taking a nap. Just then this leaf fell out of the sky and landed on her stomach, which woke the gorilla up. She looked at the leaf and promptly eat it and went back to sleep! It made me smile for the rest of the day.
Sadly it is time for me to leave 🙁
Next I will analyze all the data I have collected and hopefully some of my findings will contribute to the protection of these wonderful creatures, so that future generations can enjoy them like I have done.
I will miss my furry forest friends!!
Thanks for tuning in,