But these African apes make little attempt to stay dry in the rain. In the Shadow of Man (revised edition). Sometimes though, chimpanzees perform what researchers call “rain dances”: vigorous yet deliberate physical and auditory displays. home to 200 chimpanzees, the subjects of my dissertation. Over the past 70 years, the forest has all but swallowed up evidence of those times. I could only watch, and marvel at the magnificence of these splendid creatures. When I’m not focused on following a chimpanzee, my With a display of strength and vigor such as this, primitive man himself might have challenged the elements.”. They don’t look happy hunched on a branch, arms crossed, their hair drenched, forming spikes as if gelled into a 90s hair-do. The Ugandan chimp trackers report how villagers would go down to the immense fig to make goat sacrifices and give gifts of sorghum beer. Sometimes though, chimpanzees perform what researchers call “rain dances”: vigorous yet deliberate physical and auditory displays. closest thing to it: friendship and the transition to adulthood in Male chimpanzees are famous for charging displays, in which they pull logs and drum their hands against the towering roots of trees. I’m sure that at my university campus back home there’s also the smell of wet dog—probably due to all the drenched squirrels. There’s something comforting—almost nostalgic—about rain; the way it muffles other noises as it taps the street and drums the window. One of them told me that when researchers first came to Ngogo in the 1970s, the spirits were “still active.” As researchers passed Mother Mucuso, the sky would darken and the wildlife rangers would take appropriate steps to appease the spirits. Now, I study angst, or at least the © 1996 - 2019 National Geographic Society. Chimpanzees live in rainforest habitats where the rainy season brings regular thunderstorms. Male chimpanzees are famous for charging displays, in which they pull logs and drum their hands against the towering roots of trees. He makes large figure eights around the other chimpanzees and me. Among humans, they are thought to harbor the old, natural gods, which used to hold sway in western Uganda before Christianity. The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. All rights reserved. finalizing a dissertation project. Occasionally several males will charge through the rain together, taking turns displaying in an exaggerated fashion. Or, faced with an awesome display of the power of nature, is it some semblance of spirituality? Legendary chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall once commented, after observing a 20 minute rain dance by 6 males, “My enthusiasm was not merely scientific as I watched, enthralled…. Chimpanzees at Gombe National Park in Tanzania often become animated during rainstorms and around waterfalls. Goodall, J. forest daydreams include opening a vegan burrito restaurant in a rural What were once valleys are now impassable swamps, unless a fallen tree can act as a balance-beam bridge. While males usually use charging displays as an intimidating greeting when they encounter group mates that they haven’t seen recently, the rain dance seems to occur at any time and in the company of anyone as long … I was holding out hope for a dry Chanukah, keen to toss aside my rubber boots, don hiking shoes, and let my rain jacket lie dormant in my backpack for the next few months. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. In my time at Gombe I witnessed an average of two to three waterfall displays and rain dances per year. But the rains continued well into December. What is now Ngogo research camp—my home for the year—was once a small village. They often huddle miserably and simply get wet. Rain often subdues them, at least once heavy droplets break though the canopy. Male chimpanzees charge through the forest, rhythmically swaggering, drumming their feet on tree buttresses, slapping the ground, breaking and dragging vegetation, and making loud vocalizations. I’m sure that at my university campus back home there’s also the smell of wet dog—probably due to all the drenched squirrels. 1988. But before they seek cover under a tree, while branches sway in the wind and I hop to and fro zipping up my rain pants, male chimpanzees do something unusual: they dance. Are they in their way praying for the end of the rains? Ugandan village and making a documentary about an old fig tree. Although daily thunderstorms can be demoralizing when trying to observe chimpanzees, this heavy rainy season has its advantages. Dr. Sylvia Amsler is a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. While males usually use charging displays as an intimidating greeting when they encounter group mates that they haven’t seen recently, the rain dance seems to occur at any time and in the company of anyone as long as a storm is brewing. The accompanying odors of sweet grass and decaying leaves plastered to the sidewalk. A National Thunder makes the air vibrate and water ricochets off leaves as Garrison, an elderly male, stands upright and begins to strut, grasping at branches with his hands and dragging them as he walks. A wrong step and I’ll have mud up to my knees. Rain dance But most pertinent to the discovery of the “shrine trees”, we’ve seen evidence of chimps displaying strange ritual-like behaviour in the last few years. 5820 Asher Ave. Suite 400 ~ Little Rock, AR 72204. write from Ngogo, in the center of Kibale National Park in Uganda, The accompanying odors of sweet grass and decaying leaves plastered to the sidewalk. This wet period usually ends November 16, plus or minus ten days. To learn more, visit. Are they taking advantage of the thunder and rain—ominous sounds to embellish their own prowess? But these “rain dances” are more methodical. I... There’s something comforting—almost nostalgic—about rain; the way it muffles other noises as it taps the street and drums the window. October and November provided considerable food, specifically a favorite fig, Ficus mucuso. But there is a large mucuso fig, affectionately known by researchers as Mother Mucuso, that used to be the spiritual center of the village. male chimpanzees. As long as I stay in the good graces of the forest spirits, I expect the wet and dry seasons will come in good time each year, especially if Garrison keeps dancing. People in the village outside the forest were dreaming of a wet Christmas. I like squirrels. They often huddle miserably and simply get wet. So has the forest. Trails and animal paths have become streams; the forest is doing all it can to siphon out the excess water. Read More About Ugandan Chimps by Aaron Sandel, National Geographic Headquarters 1145 17th Street NW Washington, DC 20036, National Geographic Society is a 501 (c)(3) organization.