Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Other exciting forest days…

On another day in the forest, I saw a very strange thing. I was standing under the focal female with two of my field assistants (both male) and a male red colobus approached the female and started mating. The female ran away from him shortly after and suddenly, I saw ejaculate fly through the air over our heads. I made a gasping noise and looked around at the field assistants while they stood smiling awkwardly. I paused for a few seconds and said, “did you see something fly through the air just now?” They said “yes”. I said, “was that urine?” (Ok, I’m not that stupid, but I was trying to ease into it.) They said “no”. And I said, “I think it was ejaculate.” And they said “Yes.” So then I was like: wow, this is amazing, have you ever seen that before, we need to record it… So we then had some very awkward discussion about how to call it and how to spell it. One field assistant suggested calling it an “ejaculatory pass”. I didn’t really know what that meant, so I suggested ejaculated externally. The next morning, I had to have an equally awkward conversation with all of my field assistants about this very same thing so that we could all be sure to record it the same whenever, if ever again, it happens. I think it is just much more shocking to see this in an arboreal species where the ejaculate can literally go flying right over your head – or onto your head, for that matter.

My other forest days were also very nice. In K-14, I saw a HUGE caterpillar that was the size of a small snake. I guess these are the caterpillars that turn into the big moths that are all around Kibale at night.

Searching for groups in the K-13, K-15 area, I sunk into the huge papyrus swamp (which looks more like a river) twice. Fortunately, it was the same foot both times. So had had to ring out my sock and dump liters of water out of my boots each time. At one point, I sat down and decided to try to let my boot, foot, and sock dry out a bit. Since this area is so degraded, there is actually a good amount of sunlight that shines through, which made me for some reason think that I would be able to dry off. But I was still in a rainforest and there was no drying going on. In the meantime, red colobus started traveling over me and were peeing and pooping as they started to move (that is the typical way it goes). I was totally sitting in the wrong place and was getting the occasional urine and fecal sample dropped on me. I’m so used this now, though, and was so tired from searching all morning and struggling through the swamp twice, that I just wanted to sit there. I was more disappointed about having to move in order to not look like a crazy mzungu than I was about being pooped and peed on. C’est la vie.

Later in the day, two of my research groups came together and started to have an intergroup interaction. I was really interested in this, so I walked down to the where the males were interacting and displaying. Right as I was reaching the crosstrail, field assistants from both groups started yelling at me to watch out and get back and just yelling my name loudly. At about the same moment, I heard a huge crack over my head and I just froze not knowing which way to go. About 1 foot in front of me, a HUGE branch landed with a big thud. Little bits of debris hit me as I ran back up the hill. When the males display, they jump on the branches and this can sometimes cause them to break off. I went back to the branch later to see how heavy it was. I picked it up and found it was soo heavy. In total, it was a little bigger than my arm. A bit thicker and a bit longer. It was so dense, though, and had lichens growing all over it. Considering I was over an hours hike away from home, that would have been a tough hit on the head.

Anyway, forest days are always nice. You never know what you are going to see. Some days it is something cool happening with the red colobus, other days it is just catching a glimpse of a duiker on the walk back home. But it is always so peaceful and helps calm the mind from everything else going on.

The last month or so of my work at Kibale was so full of lab work that I rarely had time to go out into the forest. Jeff and I were working night and day to process all the fecal samples from my project. The lab work was intense, but it was successful. It was nice to have my own lab set up and to feel the progress of slowly working my way through the fecal tubes in the freezer and filling up the hormone cartridges in the box. Some days, we would wake up at 3 am to start working and then have to be up until 11 pm to finish the work. This is much harder to do in Uganda than America simply because of the darkness that is there for 12 straight hours and the bugs that come out at night and the fact that you are never really sealed in anywhere, so if you are out of your bednet at night, you are vulnerable to the elements and the bugs. We didn’t get much sleep that last month, but we got lots of good work done, so that is good.

No comments: