Eleven-year-old Jenny is the daughter of Joyce, formerly Bulindi’s oldest chimpanzee, from whom she inherited her long, gangly frame. Sadly, Joyce died in April this year following complications after being injured by a steel mantrap, left by a farmer to protect his crops. Jenny entered adolescence in 2015 and has been at the centre of male sexual politics at Bulindi for some time. We expected her to become pregnant this year and begin life as a mother in Bulindi. However, less than a week after her mother died, Jenny left Bulindi and went on a remarkable adventure.
It is common for adolescent females to leave their natal group and emigrate to a neighbouring group when they are between nine and 14 years old. This avoids them breeding with fathers, uncles or brothers. In Bulindi, Jenny had been mated by close male relatives (the alpha and beta males, Sylvester and Murry), so it’s not surprising that following the death of her mother she decided to try her luck elsewhere.
We received intermittent reports of her whereabouts for over a month as she travelled through various villages, searching for other chimpanzees. The local human communities were less used to seeing chimpanzees than villagers in Bulindi, and Jenny’s wanderings caused some alarm. We visited the communities and also put out radio announcements to explain about the ‘lost’ female chimp seen roaming near villages and trading centres, crossing roads, and helping herself to villagers’ jackfruits and sugarcane.
In May 2018 – after one month ‘on the road’ – Jenny settled in a small forest patch 8 km from Bulindi. As of September she hasn’t moved again and she seems to have set up temporary home. She nests each night in a stand of eucalyptus trees and forages on food from nearby gardens. Thankfully, the landowners are very tolerant of Jenny and it’s a relief to know she’s safe: the human-dominated matrix outside Bulindi is extremely dangerous for wandering chimps, with threats including dogs, speeding cars and villagers not used to chimpanzees. Even so, chimpanzees are intensely social animals and Jenny can’t stay alone for much longer. The nearest other group of chimps range about 8 miles to the north, across a busy road and an agricultural landscape with little cover. It’s possible that Jenny is lost – not knowing where to find other chimps and perhaps not knowing how to get back to Bulindi– and she may also be ‘mourning’ her mother Joyce still. We hope that Jenny successfully finds other chimpanzees soon or else returns safely to Bulindi.