My life in Uganda!

Hi, everyone! Below is an update that I wrote quite some time ago – unfortunately, internet access here is very limited, and this is the first chance I’ve had to post it. Enjoy!

“Asibirota” (good afternoon in Runyoro, the local language) from Masindi, Uganda! I’ve been in Africa almost a month now, and I LOVE IT! The weather is hot during the day, with cool nights and mornings (pretty much like my home state, Florida, except a bit chillier at night). For those of you who are just now reading, I’m living south of here in the village of Kibwona (good luck finding it on a map), where I don’t live in a banda (a traditional mud-and-stick house) -but where most people do. Lots of people have been asking for my daily schedule, so here’s the truth of it: I get up at 6 AM Monday through Friday to make it to the forest by 7 AM, where we track the chimps and measure their behaviors until 4 PM, or sometimes later if we have a really good viewing post (longest day was 12 hours in the forest!) Then we come home, “shower” (bucket + cup), eat dinner, and struggle to keep ourselves awake until at least 9 PM, but usually crashing into bed earlier from sheer exhaustion! In between dinner we usually sit around chatting, maybe playing cards or reading. I am here with two PhD students and one Master’s student; three of us are studying the chimpanzees and one, baboons. The forest is also full of monkeys like Black & White Colobus, red-tailed monkeys, and vervet monkeys!

The work is very tiring (climbing up and down fairly steep hills, wading through rivers, trekking through tall grasses, down roads, and so on), but it’s completely amazing! My favorite part of day is the days where we are in the forest when the chimpanzees awaken, surrounded by a chorus of pant-hoots from the treetops. We’ve also started a recent quest to re-map the forest, in order to measure whether the forest is shrinking; so far we’ve done the big “chunk”, but now we have to map the little forest fingers that are off of the forest. It’s really disheartening though, for we also measure areas of human destruction and it makes it even clearer that the forest is suffering severely from human contact. In one past week, our field assistants have found 5 snares in the forest, all very close to the area where the chimps had been lately. Of the sixteen chimps here, one mother is missing a foot, and another missing a hand; the alpha male, Komuntu, has two missing fingers on his left hand due to a man trap, and is slowly losing two fingers on his right hand from a snare. All of this makes it very important that researchers continue to monitor both the chimps and the forest!

Apart from my work, I’m also really enjoying the Ugandan diet. Every meal revolves around a starch (usually rice), beans, and vegetables. Extremely delicious (Prossy, our house helper, is an AMAZING cook) and simple! We also have amazing fruit – pineapple, papaya, passionfruit, jackfruit, mangoes, oranges, and tons of varieties of bananas! I’ve also become obsessed with g-nuts, which are like peanuts that they roast (my favorite field snack!) or make into a chunky peanut sauce for rice.

Best wishes from Africa!


  1. jmsaunders says:

    Hi fellow anthropologist!

    I’m a sophomore anthropology major at W&M, and I think your research sounds fantastic! We can learn as much from studying our closest relatives as we can from studying ourselves, I think.

    I’ve been on an archaeological project in Mobile, Alabama for the past month, so I sympathize with the hot weather and early mornings. Fieldwork seems to be similar no matter where you go!

    I’m curious about what sort of methods you use to do mapping in a forest. We’ve been using a total station on my project, but we’re out in open areas for the most part. Every now and then we actually have to cut a line of sight, which is kind of irritating, and I can’t imagine that you’d want to do that in a forest, especially given the human destruction you’re seeing…

    It sounds like being in Uganda must be a very sensory experience – the weather, the sounds, and the food especially. Aside from the g-nuts (intriguing!), what’s your favorite food/dish?

    Thanks, and looking forward to more updates,

    Jennifer Saunders

    P.S. Congratulations on meeting Jane Goodall, wow! That sounds like a once in a lifetime experience.

  2. Hi Brittany,

    Your research sounds like such an amazing experience! Although I am a psychology major, chimpanzees and other primates are often mentioned in psych textbooks. Their means of communication and group dynamics are incredible. What are you specifically studying about chimpanzees? I also find it interesting that one of your colleagues is studying baboons instead. Are all of you working on similar projects or examining different things? It is very sad to read the part about the ravaged forest and injured animals. I feel that there is not enough publicity for people to know what is happening to forests around the world. It seems like you all have taken on a huge but noble task. Like Jennifer, I am also wondering how you are able to map such a large area. I hope you are enjoying your time there and making gains on your research!


  3. Brittany Fallon says:

    Hi, Jennifer!

    We were actually mapping the perimeter of the forest in order to measure any shrinkage/deforestation effecting the size of the forest. So basically, we had two GPS systems and we walked the entire perimeter of the forest, and took waypoints at logging points. There was some work done inside the forest for vegetation plots, but for those it’s just required to crawl or force your way through the brush rather than cutting (definitely army-crawled at some points). Other than g-nuts, my favorite dish was definitely fried matooke, which is a dish of fried plantain-like bananas!

    Did you see any leprechauns this summer (presuming you’ve seen the Mobile, Alabama YouTube video…)? Thanks very much for checking out my blog!

  4. Brittany Fallon says:

    Kaci, I was studying the natural behaviors of the chimps – specifically looking at object/food manipulation so that I can hopefully put together enrichment activities for captive chimps that mimic those complex behaviors that are demonstrated in the wild.

    All four of us were studying different things – two people were looking at conflict between wildlife and villages, one with baboons and one with chimpanzees; the fourth person was looking at chimpanzee tool use while eating honey! So really, there was much variation in what we were studying, which made things constantly interesting. Thank you very much for your well wishes!