Today we had some sad news. While in the field we received a radio call informing us that Desmond’s uncle had passed away. Unfortunately, Kingston and I had to be the bearer of bad news. Within 20 minutes Desmond was headed home to tell his family and then travel to where the village where the funeral would be. After 90 minutes of cycling home, Desmond said it would be another 4 to 5 hour bicycle ride. Apparently in the rainy season there is a sharp increase in death in rural areas of Zambia. Let’s keep Desmond and his family in our thoughts and hope that everyone at Kasanka stays healthy.
BLOG #2 – 16
By: Aileen Sweeny
RAIN RAIN GO AWAY!
The rains have continued heavy and often throughout January and February which can be frustrating at times, but of course there’s always plenty of work to be done at camp…be it coding videos, updating documents or weighing faecal samples! All this rain, with intermittent sunshine, is causing the grass to grow fast and tall. In some areas there are already patches of grass taller than me (and I’m 5’9’’, so not exactly short!). It’s so easy to miss the baboons in the grass. Several times we have spotted one and presumed that we have reached the edge of the group, but after a few minutes of standing still we will notice that we have left 10 or 15 behind us and are in fact in the middle of the group! It’s great to see how habituated they are, but at times it would be helpful if they barked when they saw us, instead of continuing quietly at whatever they are doing, in order to alert us that we have encountered them!!
The main road, flooded due to rainy season!
Long grass and difficult to see roads: rainy season in Kasanka.
KINDA CAMP: YOUR LOCAL INTERNET CAFÉ!
There have been a lot of problems with phone signal at Kasanka for the last two weeks. Unfortunately I rely on signal for both my phone and also internet access, so when it’s gone I’m completely cut off from the outside world (of course, I still have radio contact with the rest of the park though!). It’s amazing and unbelievably peaceful to feel so utterly at one with nature when you can’t even send a text message if you want…but, like most things, the feeling starts to wear off eventually! Luckily for me though, signal has been coming back intermittently for a few hours at a time here at camp for the last week (while it has been completely gone from Wasa Lodge for the entire time). This has led to Kinda Camp being busier than ever as everyone comes to get signal here, which has been great as I get to see them all much more than usual. I’ve joked that I’m the new “Kasanka liaison officer” and that I should start charging them with all proceeds going to the project!! As soon as I hear “Kinda” being called on the radio, I know someone is checking if signal is available here or not. Hopefully it will improve soon though (18
: It did! Wasa have signal again).
Beautiful sky view from the camp’s hide, where I have spent a lot of time recently for signal.
SARAH DARLENE HOGLE SCHOLARSHIP FUND
Just a quick update on our sponsored student, Leah Mwamba. Leah will be starting high school this week and all arrangements money-wise have been put in place to make this happen for her. She seemed extremely excited when I met her last week to discuss everything and draw up a budget together. She will travel to Serenje for shopping on Monday (18
) and then onto Mukando High School to begin her studies. Best of luck Leah!!
NEW BOOK CLUB
While I was in Lusaka (unsuccessfully) attempting to collect my work permit, I was able to collect books and journals that Anna had sent over for the Girls Conservation Club (along with peanut butter kitkats and cashew nuts for me- thanks Anna!!!). We had been discussing starting a book club for the girls before Liz left so it’s very exciting to now be able to start it up. The girls were delighted with the books (which they are allowed to keep) and we are starting out with Anne Frank. I will be reading along with them so that we can all discuss it during class. This famous story is a great book to start with and will give the girls (and me!) a perspective on a life completely different from theirs. They will be recording their thoughts and feelings about it in their new journals.
Abia, Victoria, Leah and Selina with their new books and journals as part of the Conservation Club’s new Book Club.
I have been here for almost 4 months now and the entire troop is still accounted for. I hope it remains that way for my entire stay as I have become attached to all the individuals already! Of course the reality is that it won’t though. We also still haven’t had any new males emigrate into the troop yet even though we well and truly need some as our adult male count is quite low. I realised this particularly when we encountered the “other” group recently (which numbers around 100 individuals) and I was really surprised by the number of adult males in the group. It seemed like every second baboon I looked at was an adult male! Marley has decided at least two males need to move from this troop to ours as “there is not enough fighting going on at the moment to help us find them in the long grass!”
Lovely MJ with her gang of kids! Mowgli (L), Madonna (R) and little Macy (centre).
We are almost certain that Yoko is pregnant (Anna picked it up as soon as she saw her in December) and so she will be the first to give birth this year. I’m very excited about it! It will be her first infant and it means she became pregnant just after I arrived here (therefore I call dibs on Godmother!). The fact that Liz saw a grand total of 12 infants born last year means the number of possible mothers this year is much lower, so each and every birth will be extra special for me. I hope I will get to see every possible colour morph in
Yoko (who we believe is pregnant) and Short Tail, who have been spending increasing amounts of time together!
Dolly (also possibly pregnant) observing me observing her during a focal!
BLOG #1 – 10
By Aileen Sweeny
A NEW YEAR AT KINDA BEGINS!
Happy New Year everyone! And so Kasanka Baboon Project enters another year. Here’s to 2013; let’s hope it’s filled with baboons, research, faecal samples(!), health and happiness here at Kinda!
Unfortunately it’s been extremely rainy here since January began (“Yes, it’s the rainy season…” is the response I get every time I complain how wet it is!), so much so that the solar battery drained due to lack of sunlight. Luckily I was able to ration charging items so we got through it just fine.
HELLO ANNA AND GOODBYE LIZ
We have unfortunately said goodbye to Liz as I (Aileen) take over the position of Camp Manager. Liz has been exceptional, and while I was only with her for two of her 12 months here, I can easily see how much hard work she put in. Best of luck with all your future plans Liz; we will all miss you here at Kinda (especially me and Aretha!). Liz left a little memento for us to remember her by in the form of a beautiful sign she made for camp!
We had an additional primate enthusiastic here at camp for a few weeks during December- of course it was Anna, the project director! It was so nice for me to finally meet her, and it was great that myself, Liz and Anna all got to spend time together. 3 generations of Kasanka Baboon Project ladies!
The new Kinda Camp sign designed and made by Liz.
SARAH DARLENE HOGLE SCHOLARSHIP FUND
Anna’s visit coincided perfectly with the choosing of a girl to receive the Sarah Darlene Hogle Scholarship Fund, which will see her through high school. After narrowing down applicants, conducting interviews and giving the short-listed girls an exam, we had our girl! Congratulations to Leah Mwamba who will be receiving the scholarship. Leah excelled in all aspects of her application and we have no doubt she will excel in school. We are all very excited to be involved in assisting with Leah’s education. Anna, Liz and I were all able to meet her and have a discussion about the funding she will receive once she accepts a place in a school of her choice.
Aileen, Liz and Anna with Leah who will receive funding for her education from the Sarah Darlene Hogle Scholarship Fund
Anna, Liz and Aileen with the Girls Science Club members.
CHRISTMAS IN KASANKA
All of a sudden December 25
was upon us and it was Christmas at Kinda Camp! It was my first Christmas away from home, and while I knew I’d miss my family, I was excited about the new experience. Between us, Anna and I had brought decorations and so we put them up around camp. However, even with decorations and watching Christmas movies, it still didn’t feel fully like Christmas because of the weather!
The Kinda Camp Christmas tree!
On Christmas morning I had a package to open from my family which Anna had been kind enough to lug all the way over from the US for me. Such a lovely little surprise! We then began to make our way to Wasa for Christmas dinner with everyone, stopping to track the new zebra along to way (as you do on Christmas Day!!). We had a lovely afternoon with a total of 15 of us at dinner which included turkey and gammon! How amazing to experience eating Christmas dinner while overlooking Wasa Lake from the lodge, such a special experience.
Christmas dinner at Wasa Lodge with various staff, volunteers and visitors.
Two of the new zebra in the Park on Christmas morning.
ANIMALS, ANIMALS, ANIMALS
There have been quite a few animal encounters recently. Firstly, I finally saw my first side-stripe jackal one morning while out with the baboons. Sure enough, when there’s one, there’s two, and I saw another one the following evening. On another day out in the field with Anna and Marley I suddenly noticed something large and dark moving quickly through the forest towards the plain (we were standing in the middle of the Wasa 3 plain). I told Anna and Marley and the next thing we knew, two stunning adult Sable antelope appeared out onto the plain. It’s difficult to describe how excited Anna and I were as this was the first time for both of us to see Sable! It was special for me; so for Anna, who has been in and around Kasanka for years now, it must have been amazing.
One of the two male Sable antelope we saw on the Wasa 3 plain
I also encountered elephants for the first time while cycling. I was on my way back from Wasa on January 1
when I came across them. I must say I was quite nervous, but while I have no doubt they were fully aware of me, they didn’t let on that they’d seen me at all. I got to see my first hippo footprints, and it just so happened they were only a few metres from my tent. While I’m well aware of how large a hippo is, I was still very surprised by the size of the prints; they were huge! And all the rain had made the ground so soft that they were perfectly formed and quite deep in the mud. It’s thrilling to think how close I live to nature. Speaking of which, the night after I saw the prints by my tent I had to go back to the dining room as I’d forgotten my water bottle. My head-torch isn’t the strongest as its LED (but lasts for weeks without needing new batteries!) so before I knew it, I had nearly stepped on a python that was easily over 2m long! Of course, initially I got a huge fright and the adrenalin was definitely pumping, but I quickly recognised it as a python and knew the only way it was going to kill me was if it got hold of me and squeezed me to death! Yet another amazing animal encounter at Kinda Camp!
Hippo footprint on the track to the hide here at Kinda Camp.
~3m long python just outside the tent one night!
Everything is going well in the troop and luckily we haven’t lost any members since I arrived two-and-a-half months ago (touch wood!). They were all unbelievably calm around Anna and I had some amazing close encounters with them while out in the field with her.
Hopefully some of Anna’s magic has rubbed off on me and they will continue to be as relaxed as they were when she was here. So far, so good it seems. The only time they’ve seemed strange with me was when I arrived on a bike one evening straight after a shower to check which sleeping site they were using. So I think between arriving on a bike (they really don’t seem to like bikes) and being fully clean, they didn’t initially recognise me!!
Frieda being groomed by Muma while Floyd suckles
BLOG # 13 –
By Elizabeth Winterton and Aileen Sweeny
IT’S RAINING ELEPHANTS
After weeks of speculation, the rains are finally here. After 6 months of no rain, it’s a bit of a shock to have to don the rain coat every day, but at least it’s preparing me for the English weather I’ve got to look forward to in 3 weeks!
The first rains
Along with the rain, have come the elephants. After a rather noticeable absence around Kinda camp (on my part anyway, as I never seem to be in the right place at the right time) the elephants are back with 2 visits to Kinda already in the last week! So along with the 10 million fruit bats every morning and night, and the potential for a zebra to wander into camp at any moment (Kasanka have just released 9 into the park) we’re doing pretty well for animal sightings.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF KINDA CAMP
My name is Aileen and I will be taking over the role of Camp Manager at Kinda Baboon Project when Liz leaves in a few weeks. I have been at Kinda Camp for a month now and I love it. Of course, I had my concerns about coming out to the bush for a year, but those worries all rapidly disappeared during my first week here. Liz has made me feel so welcome, and she’s been a brilliant mentor.
My first impression of camp wasn’t until the morning of 30
October as we had arrived the night before. It was different to how I’d imagined it, and yet somehow exactly how I’d imagined it! Camp has everything we need and I can see myself happily living here over the next year. I also got to meet the baboons when we went out that afternoon. I think they were possibly checking me out just as much as I was them, as they almost paraded passed us! It was incredible to see the white infant (Macy) and also the mixed coloured infant (Elton), as I’ve previously worked with Chacma baboons (
) and so I’m used to only seeing black infants.
Aileen & Liz in the field
My main role over the last few weeks has been learning to recognise the baboons individually. This is obviously the most vital part of the job, so that we know exactly which individual the data/sample is from. I am quite confident with most of the adult males and females now, so hopefully I will continue to learn them over the next couple of weeks.
Of course I have to mention the bats, as it’s not possible to come to Kasanka National Park in October/November and not mention them! Watching around 3 million straw-coloured fruit bats pour out into the evening sky from one small patch of forest on my first evening here was just mind-blowing. And their numbers have trebled since then! Every evening we see them; whether at camp or still in the field. I must say my first full day in Kasanka was amazing; exploring camp and Fibwe Hide in the morning, meeting the baboons in the afternoon and then watching the bats in the evening!
The bats at dawn
Independence Day, New Arrivals, and a Theory of Kinda Baboon Natal Coat Color
By: Elizabeth Winterton
Independence Day – 24th October 2012
Chongololo Club Play:
As part of the project’s work at Kafinda Basic School we also participate in the schools ‘Chongololo
Club’. A government initiative, the clubs aim to increase awareness about conservation and
This term, I asked the club to write a play about local conservation, focussing on some of the animals
found within Kasanka National Park and the neighbouring Bangweulu Wetlands. The animals chosen
were the elephant, sitatunga, straw-coloured fruit bat and the shoebill. As well as information about
the animal itself, such as physical characteristics, diet, and threats to its conservation, the students
wrote poems about conserving the animals, and were going to perform a poaching sketch and
various songs and dances.
The students chose to perform the play on Zambia National Independence Day, so after rounding-up
some of Kasanka’s volunteers and management team we set off for what we thought was going to
be an excellent play (I had seen a rehearsal, and it was great!).
Unfortunately after all the anticipation, and after watching a few hours of all the other school’s
clubs performing, it turned out that half of the Chongololo Club hadn’t turned up because they
were Jehovah Witnesses and didn’t celebrate Independence Day, so therefore the play couldn’t be
shown!! Bit of a disappointment.
So we’re still awaiting the actual play, and planning a date when they can come down to Kasanka to
One of the dances
Some of the costumes from the dress rehearsal
After losing to the school’s team back in June, it was time for our Girl’s club to have revenge.
With a team made up of Selina, Charity, Victoria, Agness, Leah, Abia and Angela (a last-minute sub
for me) we were looking pretty good and got off to a great start. After being told I was only going to
play for 5 minutes in the 2nd half (apparently I didn’t impress with my last performance, but note I
was unwittingly at the start of a bout of malaria!), I actually surpassed all expectations and managed
to play for the full 15 minutes!! Unfortunately though my energetic burst didn’t help us too much,
and in the end we lost 13-6.
The winning shot
The Team: Selina, Me, Leah
Abia, Charity, Angela, Agness, Victoria
BATS, BATS AND MORE BATS
Kasanka is known for 2 things; the sitatunga, and the World’s largest mammal migration (in terms of
biomass). These mammals are the straw-coloured fruit bats, which arrive from the DRC towards the
end of October and roost in Kasanka until the beginning of January when they fly back to the DRC.
When I was told we’d have up to 10 million bats arriving I couldn’t quite comprehend what that
would look like, and now they are here it’s even harder to comprehend. Every evening around 6pm a
continual wave of bats fills the sky, and it’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed.
Living at Fibwe, I’m lucky enough to see this spectacle every night as the bats roots only a few
kilometres away from camp, and it never fails to amaze.
The baboons don’t seem to be too disturbed by this sudden influx of mammals into their home
range, however the vehicles packed with tourists arriving at 4.30am each morning does seem to
be affecting their activity patterns with them now leaving the mushitu around 6am every morning
which means extremely early starts for us researchers!
The bats leaving their roost for a night of feeding (all the black dots are bats!)
In the last few weeks we’ve had a few new additions to the project….
Firstly, I want to give a big warm welcome to Aileen Sweeney who is to be the new camp manager
for the coming year.
Secondly, the last baby for this year has been born! Indigo, the daughter of Norah has given birth to
her first child. A healthy black infant, this brings our total number of births this year to 12 (not bad
considering we only have 18 adult females in the troop!), with 5 white, 3 black, 1 grey and 3 mixed
Aileen at Kinda Camp
Indigo with her new baby, being groomed by Norah
THE GENETICS OF COLOUR
One thing that is so baffling about the Kindas is the huge variety of colour in infants. All other
baboon species have black infants, so why do Kindas also have white, grey and mixed coloured
infants? The white infants in particular stand out hugely in the forest and therefore appear to be
under much greater threat from predators, so what fitness benefits must there be to counteract
this? Another question raised is how are they different colours in the first place?
This question has perplexed me over the last week as I was 90% sure Indigo’s baby would be white
as 2 of her siblings (the other was born before research started) were born white, so I would assume
she was also born white and therefore would be a strong carrier for the gene.
But what about mixed and grey infants? They must be a mix of black and white genes, but why
would one infant have a black head and a white body, and another be completely grey? Could there
then be co-dominance or even multiple alleles??
After a thorough look through an A-level biology text book(!), and the assumption that grey is indeed
different to black and white, we (Myself and Aileen) have come up with the following theory…
Kinda baboon’s genes for colour have multiple alleles, with the black and white alleles being co-
dominant, and the grey allele being recessive to both the black and white alleles.
As an example; if a female is dominant for the black allele, but is a carrier of the grey allele, and her
male mating partner is dominant for the white allele and a carrier of the grey allele, you would get
the following ratio of offspring;
1 mixed(black and white):1 white:1 black:1 grey
If you assume grey is different to mixed you cannot get this distinction if black and white alleles were
just co-dominant as only a mixed infant could be born.
White (MJ’s infant)
Black (Indigo’s infant)
Mixed (Ella’s infant)
Grey (Roseanne’s infant)
Anyone want to fund the research so we can find out whether our theory is correct!?? Maybe this
could lead to the Kindas being classed as a species in their own right rather than just a sub-species…
*** Side note from Anna...The Kasanka Baboon Project considers Kinda Baboons to be its own species.
The Girl’s Overnight to Kinda
Written by Kasanka Baboon Project Womens Science Club
It was on the 19
September when we went to Kinda Camp. We started off from Mulaushi around 14hrs when Bastiaan the driver came to pick us up. When we reached Kinda, Liz welcomed us all and gave us water and tea. After we went to see some sitatungas on a simple ladder within Kinda’s surrounding area. After, we all went into the bush to learn about animal tracks. We learnt a lot of things; how one can identify which animal has passed, whose droppings are whose and lots of other things
Watching the baboons
Bastiaan teaching us about animal tracks
After all this, we came back to camp where we had lots of fun. Around 19.30 we had dinner, and afterwards watched a movie and went to sleep.
The finished meal
Very early in the morning we went on a game drive where we saw lots of animals; sitatunga, warthog, bushbuck, baboons and so on. We also saw birds flying in the sky. When we came back from the game drive we had breakfast, and afterwards received a certificate each saying we had completed the animal tracks course. Around 11.00hrs we left Kinda and set off for home.
The start of the game drive
After receiving our certificates
BLOG # 10 – 27
By: Elizabeth Winterton
A bad week for the baboons
In my last blog I mentioned our oldest female, L.P., was not looking so healthy after developing a tumour in her cheek pouch. Well it seems I was the kiss of death as she now hasn’t been seen since the 10
September. Although she does disappear from time to time it is unusual for her not to be seen for this long, so I fear she may have died.
With the probable death of L.P. there were further shocks in the baboon troop this week with Sarah, her 2 month old infant Slash, and Garcia all disappearing on the 15
September. All 3 seemed healthy, so presumably they were either killed by our resident leopard, or by poachers. Although Garcia could have migrated to another group it seems unlikely as he is one of the 4 high-ranking males, and he is almost certainly the father of Indigo’s baby. He also has a regular mating partner in Yoko who is thought to be Sarah’s 4 year old daughter.
After spending so much time with the troop this last year it is obviously a sad time for me that we appear to have had so many die within a matter of days. However, the baboons seem to show no compassion at all and are merrily getting along with their socialising and feeding, and do not seem saddened at all by the recent losses of the troop. Muma already seems to be eyeing up Indigo as a potential new girlfriend and Yoko has chosen Ella to be her new best friend, so where she used to spend the majority of her time with Sarah she now spends her days by Ella’s side trying to hug her baby!
Sarah and Sufjan
Yoko grooming Ella
Girl’s overnight – 19
Each year the girls in the conservation club come for an overnight at Kinda Camp and have a game drive down the Kasanka River. This year we had 6 girls come down to camp accompanied by Kasanka’s community outreach workers Mwati and Given, Marcel Inge’s brother, and Erik the intern student.
With Bastiaan acting as guide, the girls had a lesson on animal tracks in the afternoon, followed by a lesson from me on how to bake a Victoria Sponge cake! After a great evening of good food and a movie we got up early the next morning to check out the sitatungas from the Fibwe Hide and go on the game drive. Unfortunately we didn’t see too many animals, but it was enjoyable none-the-less.
I won’t say too much more as the girl’s will be writing their own blog on the overnight in their next computer lesson.
The overnight crew with their certificates
BLOG # 9 – 12
By: Elizabeth Winterton
THE FATE OF EMIGRANT MALES
In most cases, the fate of emigrant males is unknown. We don’t know if they survived their transfer, whether they are mating successfully, or what troop they now belong to.
In all baboon species when males reach sexual maturity, normally around 8 years of age, they leave their natal troop to go in search of mating opportunities with unrelated females. So, back in March with sexual maturity reached Leon left the troop, shortly followed by JK and Cat in April.
Since then they haven’t been seen; that was until last week. Whilst trying to locate our study group we came across the troop of 100 whose home range overlaps with that of the study troops. With an estimated 15 adult males in their group we were surprised to notice 2 very familiar looking faces. Although a little bit bulkier than when we last saw them, they were definitely Cat and Leon. We only got to see them for a few minutes, but they still appeared to be hanging out together and were fully integrated into the troop.
Hopefully in the coming years we will habituate this second group, and get to find out how well our baboons are thriving in their new troop
Leon relaxing in his new troop
As my time as camp manager is coming to an end in the next few months preparations are under way for my replacement, which means it’s time for the camp to have a facelift. As the matete has now been harvested this meant we could rebuild the second shower and finish off the roof over the second tent. This also fortunately coincides with the arrival of Erik, a University student who is coming to intern with the project for a few months.
The roof after completion
The shower being re-built
OUR LITTLE OLD LADY
It appears in many baboon troops within Kasanka there rarely seems to be any obviously old members. In general, baboons will live between 15 and 25 years and I would estimate the oldest baboons I’ve seen in other troops would be 17 to 18 years old.
In our study troop however we have one female who is distinctly older than the rest (I’m guessing around 20 years old), our little old lady, L.P. Seemingly the lowest ranking female in the troop she is rarely seen interacting with other troop members apart from Janis.
Over the last few months since Jojo’s death, and therefore the demise of her occasional male grooming partner, L.P. seems to have gotten more fragile and has developed a tumour in her right cheek pouch. Despite this she still seems to be doing okay although we can go days without seeing her. Fortunately the tumour doesn’t appear to be hindering her feeding habits too much so let’s hope she keeps going for a while longer yet, although with the leopard spoor we found near one of the sleeping sites last week she will have to keep her wits about her.
L.P. with Jojo
L.P. with her tumour
MORE NEW BABIES
Last time I said we were expecting 2 more babies in the next few weeks. Dolly, who I expected to give birth at the end of August still hasn’t had a baby, however Ella has. She gave birth to a mixed coloured infant (black head, white body) on the 7
September. So far the baby seems to be doing great and Ella is already commanding the attention of quite a few of the females.
Patsy who was not expected to give birth until the latter half of the month has also had her baby. Born on the 10
September we now have another black infant.
This now brings our total this year so far to 11 babies with 5 white, 1 grey, 2 black and 3 mixed.
During the first few days after birth it seems most females don’t like to have their other children around, and both Elvis and Pearl, Ella and Patsy’s respective children who were born last year, who were almost guaranteed to be sat with their mother’s in the mushitu every morning, have been banished.
Ella with her new infant Etta
Sufjan (mixed), Patsy with her new infant (black), Yoko, MJ and MJ’s infant (white)