Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Meeting Goodall: of Dolphins and Chimps pt III

The Great Banana Heist

We conducted our interview with Dr. Goodall until Julia ran out of audio tape and went to the hut for another roll. She screamed and came running out looking extremely embarrassed. The reason was only too clear. Standing in the middle of the clearing was a large male chimp with the banana stalk. He didn’t laugh out loud but looked mighty pleased with himself.
I looked at Goodall expecting the worst, but she was smiling. Julia blurted out her explanation. “I opened the door and he just pushed me out of the way and grabbed the bananas. He’s phenomenally strong.” Julia appeared impressed if not a bit traumatized by the encounter.
We stopped filming to watch one of the most astonishing interspecies interaction I’ve ever witnessed. The male with the bananas stood there like a Capo Mafosi. Females approached with their hands cupped and a look of supplication. He began doling out one banana after another to favored females.
The baboons went nuts, screeching and running around in a frenzy. They wanted some banana too. After doling out a few of the precious fruits, the male climbed a nearby tree and began to eat. He would peel a banana, eat it with a look of supreme self-satisfaction and then drop the peel to the baboons below. The word haughty doesn’t begin to describe his attitude.
If ever anyone doubted the similarities between humans and chimps they need only have witnessed that interaction. The facial expressions, attitudes and behaviors of the chimps were only a slight exaggeration of what we see in our fellow humans.
It is much harder to see these expressions in dolphins as their faces are fixed, rigid to minimize drag through the water. In many dolphin species they appear to be smiling all the time but that is only the result of evolutionary forces shaping their faces moving through water over eons.
We returned to Kigoma without further misadventure, found our plane and then flew through thunderheads the entire way back to Dar Es Salaam. It was bumpy and a true white-knuckler. Below us was trackless Africa - no place to crash or even land. I was glad when we touched down back in Dar.
That night we found a secret restaurant where you could buy a sumptuous dinner - if you had dollars. The room was mainly peopled by large and well-fed African men, each of whom had two or three women crowding around him seeking his favor. My mind went back to the chimp with the bananas. Along with the fine food there was a local spirit called Conyagi – cognac. The stuff was vile but I threw back quite a few shots.

For more stories of interspecies contacts in many oceans of the world read The Voice of the Dolphins by Hardy Jones, available in print and Kindle at

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