Chimps Chow Down on Spring Bouquets

Dark clouds loom overhead as an Msiloti tree shows off its blossoms (Photo by Lisa O’Bryan)

Lisa O’Bryan is in Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where Jane Goodall began the first studies of chimps in the wild. Lisa is in the forests trying to better understand the calls chimps make, to help discover just where the line is (or isn’t) between sounds and speech.

With a crash of thunder and explosion of tiny yellow flowers, the rains have returned to Gombe National Park. It is a vision of Spring as many areas of the world celebrate Spring Break, though Tanzania and other equatorial regions technically don’t have this season. Rather than the four temperate seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, their year is primarily divided into two: the wet and the dry seasons.

At Gombe, the wet season typically lasts from October through May with a brief reprieve from mid-December to February. I arrived at Gombe just as the “short rains” were lightening up, so I have been enjoying dry-season-like weather for the past two months. However, over the last week, the air has begun to cool, the humidity has seeped in, and the seal holding in the rains has begun to falter.

A flower bouquet dropped to the forest floor by chimps feeding in the trees above (Photo by Lisa O’Bryan)
A flower bouquet dropped to the forest floor by chimps feeding in the trees above (Photo by Lisa O’Bryan)

Simultaneously, and virtually overnight, entire fields of Msiloti trees have burst into bloom. While the chimps have been nibbling the compact flower buds for several weeks now, the showers have delivered a superior treat of fluffy yellow blossoms. Currently, chimps across the park can be found eagerly clutching bright bouquets, munching the spinach-tasting flowers like cotton candy.

Despite the frequent downpours, soggy shoes and muddy clothing, research will continue as usual, though with some minor modifications. Ponchos will become regular attire, Tanzanian soccer cleats will aid navigation of the slick, steep slopes and waterproof notebooks will prevent precious data from washing away. Fortunately, on the cusp of the sometimes dreary “long rains”, flower petals falling like raindrops are brightening the darkening skies.

NEXT: Read All Gombe 2013 Blog Posts


Learn More

National Geographic Magazine Feature on Bonobos

National Geographic Jane Goodall Archives




Meet the Author
Lisa O’Bryan is a PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota. Her dissertation research focuses on the function of chimpanzee food-associated calling behavior. She is currently conducting fieldwork at Gombe National Park through the end of May 2013.