Battles in the Forest

1626887So far, in the short amount of time I’ve spent at Gombe, I have seen quite a few hunts. While most hunts happen high in the tree tops, hidden behind dense vegetation, I recently snagged a prime viewing spot for one of these events, and it was quite a sight to see.

It was mid afternoon when I began hearing the alarm calls of Colobus monkeys high in the trees. The chimps evidently heard them too because many of the males quickly took off towards the sounds, leaving the females and less motivated males behind.

When I got into position I saw about a half dozen Colobus high in a tree. Soon, I spotted Frodo, the group’s most enthusiastic hunter, beginning to slowly climb up the trunk. This caused quite an uproar up above. Wondering why the monkeys were staying put and not running for their lives, I suddenly realized that three other males had quietly climbed the surrounding trees, blocking any escape route. I can’t say whether this clever act was planned or accidental, but, either way, the result was the same. The monkeys were trapped. I was impressed by how courageously the monkeys defended themselves, since they are about half the size of the chimps. Their collective calling, branch shaking and aggressive lunges actually caused Frodo to retreat down the tree a ways. Suddenly, however, Frodo began the slow buildup of a pant-hoot, reminiscent of a battle cry, with the males in the surrounding trees joining the chorus one after the other. The chimps began closing in. As a last resort, one brave Colobus actually pounced on Frodo. A struggle ensued before Frodo seized it and threw it off. To my horror I saw the monkey plummet from the tree tops to the ground below. Suddenly, I was surrounded by a blur of monkeys and chimps screaming and flying through the air. I ran for cover in case any more monkeys, or chimps for that matter, were thrown from the trees above me. After a few minutes the commotion slowed down and I was able to survey the results. Two monkeys had been caught.

While watching these exciting events I find myself torn between who to root for. Of course I support the chimps, since I spend most of my time in their company. However, the high-pitched alarm calls, acrobatic leaps between treetops, and heroic fighting of the monkeys make it hard to wish ill-luck on any of them. In the end, sometimes the chimps come out on top and sometimes the monkeys escape unscathed. Either way it’s an exciting, dramatic glimpse of the battles that go on in the wild every day between the hunters and the hunted.