Being a hopefully not too sentimental re-telling of my experience watching wild chimpanzees in Gombe. Part 2.
Eventually we came to a spot where the forest floor was sloped and covered with a thick, soft layer of clover-like plants; we sat down among the trees and watched the chimpanzees around us. There was no conversation. Eventually Dad even stopped snapping pictures, though this may have been more to do with the light and the blurry nature of the shots (Dad’s very fussy about his photos) than the feeling that was stealing over me. As I’m writing, I’m trying to get back there so I can explain how I felt. It was strange and my wonder was tinged with a hint of fear. I wasn’t ignorant of how strong chimpanzees are, and the wild crashing through, accompanied by a cacophony of hooting from of what seemed like every chimp in the forest, of the larger, older males made the hairs stand up on my arms and the breath leave my lungs to the point of pain. But every moment was so exciting, and every moment there was something to see so close to me that I could have reached out and touched it. They were so like us, but at the same time so different. The males had so much control as they swung down and were so fast, as they came past seeming to surf from tree to tree. They hands were so dextrous and every long, brown finger was perfectly shaped and had a clear shiny fingerprint on its end.
At the time the males were involved in a power struggle. The male who had been dominant for some years (Frodo) was either sick or injured and hadn’t been seen for some time. There had been rumours that he snatched, killed and tried to eat a baby from one of the villages on the island; what this had to do with his illness I don’t know. Now the struggle was between several males of the G family, making them violent and noisy. We had been told that if one of the dominant males came through we had to hold onto a tree trunk and appear submissive, but naturally I rather hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Full grown chimpanzees are unimaginably strong.
The moment when tears eventually sparked in my eyes, the culmination of what seemed like quite a journey, came when a mother chimp which I had been watching for some time stretched out her arm and brought her young one to her breast. She sat legs out in front and after picking something small and invisible from his head she stroked her hand down over it and got to her feet. She came forward on four legs, baby clinging on the front for several steps and then smoothly stood upright and walked the last few steps to the tree on two legs. She deposited junior on a low branch and then followed him as he began to climb. Those moments, from four legs, to standing, to two filled my chest with an excitement that it couldn’t contain. It looked like evolution happening in front of my eyes.
Love you and leave you now
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