William Bradley took part in Bangor University’s first Uganda Field Course in September 2018. The blog post below was written as an assignment for the module. It is published here with permission.
Chimp’s Knackers, Haemorrhoid Birds and Other Interesting Observations…
A guest blog post by William Bradley (Y2, BSc Zoology with Conservation, Bangor University)
Having waited until I was in my late forties before embarking on my university education, I already knew that I may be presented with some challenges that an earlier start could have avoided. The week before I started I went to get wax removed from my ears so that I would be able to hear in lectures properly. The referral to audiology and subsequent diagnosis of “significant hearing loss” came as quite a shock.
Fast forward twelve months and I find myself on the adventure of a lifetime, a field course in the Ugandan rainforest, studying primates. This opportunity is a dream come true, having never been out of Europe, Africa was somewhere I never thought I would be lucky enough to visit and monkeys were just the cherry on the cake!!! It is said that you can’t have your cake and eat it, so I wasn’t too put out when I discovered that tracking primates required hushed voices, the things our field guide pointed out were said in hushed tones so as not to alarm our quarry. This is when I thought that I had discovered that chimps have three testicles….
It was our second day in the rainforest, our guide was leading us through the forest and pointing out anything of interest he discovered along the trail. Elephants had passed by not too long before and had left plenty of evidence, huge footprints in the soft mud track which had filled with water, enormous piles of dung which we were told scored a ‘one’ for freshness based on how high the pile remained (dung that has aged approximately a week since being expelled would score a five as it was flattened out by the rain). Who would have thought there would be a numerical scoring system for what the elephants had expelled whilst travelling through the forest, I expect the elephants don’t care what their dump has scored – “congratulations Jumbo darling a perfect one”.
So, what then about the chimp’s knackers?
Shortly after the discovery of elephant dung our guide became excited, pointed to the floor and pointed out where a chimp’s testicles had left their mark on the muddy track. “Look, chimp’s knackers !!!” I assumed the chimp must have taken a short break on his journey, sitting in the mud with his jewels sinking into the soft earth. I looked closely and noticed that there were three or four small depressions in the earth. Surely it was only this chimp that had multiple testicles? I had heard of Polyorchidism in individuals but surely not in an entire species – otherwise I would have read about this phenomenon somewhere the scientific literature.
A feeling of calm realisation descended upon me, not dissimilar to that of déjà vu. I like to call it my “sanity check”, the realisation that something isn’t quite right. This triggers some automatic responses in my brain, not always pleasant. It was around the time that I had re-visualised around eight chimp scrotums from a variety of sources, Jane Goodall films, BBC documentaries and Monkey Business, that I managed to stop the flash of images in my brain. They all were quite sizeable, full and of course rather a dark shade, yet none seemed to have any unusual configuration just the usual paired arrangement.
As my confusion was almost out of control, the ongoing battle between the devil and the angel, one on each shoulder produced a victor. I peered over the shoulder of the person in front of me who was diligently sketching the imprint left in the mud. It was clearly labelled “Chimp’s KNUCKLES”. What a joy.
The remainder of our forest walk that afternoon gave me no cause for confusion. A fantastic insight into the ecosystem of the tropical rainforest. Of course, like most people I had seen ‘The Jungle’ on documentaries and had the misguided notion that it would be familiar however I couldn’t have been more wrong. The continuous feed of wonders proved almost too much. An overload of beautiful colours, sweet perfumes and somewhat nasty odours (usually the elephant dung) coupled with the warm and humid atmosphere were almost too pleasurable to withstand for such an extended period – yet this was only the second day on our rainforest adventure.
I began to wonder how the rest of our group might be coping with the additional pressure of being able to hear everything that the guide drew our attention to. The buzzing of a swarm of bees collecting nectar from high up in the tree canopy, distant calls from primates that could be used to identify the species and the nearby sounds of branches and leaves being disturbed by monkeys which gave a clue to their location.
A particularly frequent sound was the call of the African haemorrhoid cuckoo. We didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of the bird so I’m afraid there’s no photograph to show but I did found an illustration in a guidebook. It was then that I realised that this bird is actually called the African emerald (not haemorrhoid) cuckoo.