Chimps of the Lost Gorge Natural World


Chimps of the Lost Gorge

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Meet Brutus, the leader of the Kyambura Chimps.

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His community is plagued by nightmare teenagers,

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naughty kids,

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squabbling adults

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and serious rivalry.

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But that's pretty normal for chimps.

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Brutus has a problem that's much more serious.

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These chimps live in a deep and ancient forested gorge

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that cuts through the plains of Africa's Rift Valley.

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The Kyambura gorge may be a lush oasis,

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but it's also their prison.

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Brutus and the chimps are trapped.

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As the pressures of isolation take hold, can they stick together or will they self destruct?

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The Kyambura chimps have been marooned in a five-mile gorge in a

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corner of South West Uganda for nearly 15 years.

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Their narrow strip of forest used to continue along the river like a corridor, to a much larger forest.

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But in recent times the human population here has exploded.

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Crops now cover the land, and the trees have all but vanished.

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For Brutus and his community living in the gorge,

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their link to the chimps in the other forest has been severed.

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These chimps may as well be on a desert island.

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But they've got to carry on and do their best to function as normal.

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Easier said than done.

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Here in the gorge there are just five breeding females,

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a couple of grannies

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and 11 kids.

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They are led by a motley crew of males -

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one old man,

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a couple of scraggly teenagers

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and only two prime adults.

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It's not up to the usual standard of a male chimp defence force.

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As the alpha male, Brutus presides over the whole group.

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He's the most powerful chimp in the gorge.

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It's his job to keep control.

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But how will he lead such a ragtag band in these reduced circumstances?

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The forested gorge is a reasonably safe place for the chimps.

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The trees provide an escape from predators.

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But Brutus and his team are about to leave their sanctuary and set off on a high-risk mission.

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Just the males together climb out of the gorge and into the danger zone.

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Savannah.

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Predators stalk the open grasslands.

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It's a habitat made for fast runners, not tree climbers like the chimps.

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This might seem foolish, but something drives them on.

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On high alert, they creep forward.

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A nervous band of just three big males and two teenage boys.

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It's not much of a war party.

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For the youngsters with their pale faces, it's seriously scary.

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But still they follow the leaders without question.

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But Brutus and his crew aren't on a mission to escape the gorge.

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They've been lured out by a more immediate temptation.

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The most delicious, juicy, ripe figs.

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Safe off the ground, the chimps can relax.

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The figs are a rich source of calcium and vitamins, and a worthy reward for their bravery.

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Male chimps never leave their families,

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so these boys will stay together until they die.

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They might be a second-rate crew, but they are the core of the Kyambura chimps society.

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They have to stick together, work together and be a good team.

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After eating until they could burst, the boys indulge in a little grooming.

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It's an important ritual that cements the bonds between them.

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Brutus gets all the attention, as befits his role as the alpha male.

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All the boys like an opportunity to suck up to the boss.

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Apart from one.

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Hatari is a little younger than Brutus.

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At 21 he's approaching his prime and has his eye on Brutus's crown.

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His craving for power is so strong Brutus will need to watch his back.

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Hatari decides it's time to go, and swings down first.

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It's a bold and defiant gesture

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Brutus should always be the first to move.

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He ought to put Hatari in his place,

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but out in the savannah they need to concentrate on predators, not politics.

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There could be a lion around.

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Having a troublemaker in the ranks is the last thing Brutus needs in this claustrophobic situation.

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Back in the gorge the mothers are safe.

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They have young babies to mind and teach.

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While there's no chance of escape, every breeding female is extremely precious -

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to lose even one would have drastic consequences.

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For now, they're all doing well and there has been a recent baby boom.

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But a strange twist of fate will make the chimps' future in the gorge even harder.

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None of the new babies are girls.

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The community desperately needs more, but chimps are very slow breeders and

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on average each mother produces just one baby in five years.

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Because four of the five mothers have babies under two years old,

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they won't be conceiving anytime soon.

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That leaves only two females that could get pregnant in the near future.

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One is Emiti, she has two boys already, one six, the other three.

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If she can breed that fast again, and produce a girl,

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it will make a massive difference to the survival of the group.

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There's a lot of hope resting on her shoulders.

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But she's not carrying it alone.

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Sharing her burden is Pamba.

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Pamba is a teenager and her body is preparing to breed.

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She too might get pregnant soon -

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another hope for a baby girl.

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The only problem is that Pamba's hormones are driving her to leave the gorge.

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Female chimps tend to leave their families when they become sexually active.

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They do it to avoid inbreeding.

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But if Pamba did stay, to have another breeding female around

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would be much better for the gorge community.

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The deadly savannah stands between her and a new life.

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But if only she knew how close the other chimps were.

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Within seven miles of the Kyambura gorge there are two distinct forests,

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both containing healthy populations of chimps.

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both could be walked to within a morning.

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But the route to one is cut off by farmland

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and the route to the other by lion country.

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Salvation is so near, yet so far.

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The chimps can't know how close it is

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otherwise surely they'd run the gauntlet.

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What they desperately need is for a new forest corridor to be planted,

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a corridor that would not only let Pamba out, it would also let other migrating females in,

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bringing with them much needed fresh blood.

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But a corridor would have to be planted by people,

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and even if they were to start now, it will take at least 20 years for the trees to flourish.

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The Kyambura chimps will have to stay strong if they are to survive that long.

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So, despite her raging hormones, Pamba has nowhere to go,

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and applies herself instead to babysitting one of the toddlers.

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It's a teenage female chimp's favourite pastime.

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She uses a stick to fish for honey. The toddler is fascinated.

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More of a hindrance than a help.

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He'll learn by watching.

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It gives the mother a break and the experience is great for Pamba.

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If she bears a healthy daughter in the gorge soon, it could be

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just enough to help the Kyambura chimps survive until rescue comes,

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if it ever does.

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The boys have returned from their fig expedition, and once safely back

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in the gorge, Brutus, the leader, needs to reassert his authority.

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SQUEALING, HOOTING

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At 26 years old, he's in his prime.

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Strong, confident and in control.

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His displays leave the others in no doubt as to who's in charge.

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But Brutus can't keep control through violence alone.

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Every alpha male chimp needs a side-kick.

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Unfortunately for Brutus, in the confines of the gorge, he's only got one choice.

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Hatari is the only other prime male in the group, so even though he is

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the chimp most likely to stab Brutus in the back,

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the two have to have some kind of relationship.

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A bit of grooming eases the tension between them.

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But it won't last.

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Looking ahead, it's hard to imagine how the testosterone-driven males

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will cope when the old females die and aren't replaced.

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While there's no corridor to bring new females in, and no sign of baby girls,

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chances of a happy future are slim.

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The oldest females are in their 30s and 40s.

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It's possible they still remember the other chimps from the big forest.

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Chimps are intelligent,

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but is it possible for them to share memories from the past?

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If not, when the grannies die, that knowledge will die with them,

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leaving the youngsters without a clue.

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They will think they are the only chimps in the world.

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Maji is the boldest teenager in the group.

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He's young but he's already one of Brutus's sidekicks.

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On the cusp of adulthood, he loves following the big males.

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But he'll also jump at the chance to hang out with his young friends.

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Being carefree is all very well, but because there's a huge shortage

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of males in the gorge, Maji will have to grow up fast.

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He'll have to be ready to take on a role in Brutus's team.

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Today the boys have a taste for blood.

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Trapped alongside the chimps are black-and-white colobus.

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The Kyambura chimps love to eat them.

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This is where the males' teamwork is essential.

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Brutus and Hatari have to work together.

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Colobus monkeys are fast and clever - success is not guaranteed.

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Teenage Maji is keen to join in.

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If he wants to help, he'd better be up to the job.

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The quarry is in their sights.

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And the chase is on.

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WHOOPING

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Baby monkeys are the target

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but a male colobus will fight to the death for his family.

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Getting past the protective dads is no easy task.

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Brutus pushes the monkeys into position,

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straight towards a waiting Hatari.

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They'll be no match for his strength and aggression.

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The colobus can go no further. They're cornered.

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Hatari's trying to get to them, but teenage Maji keeps getting in the way.

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Hatari prepares for the final charge

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but Maji blocks his path.

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The hunt is over.

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It's been a disaster.

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Brutus's disappointment is intense.

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The chimps have wasted a lot of energy, and it's all Maji's fault.

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If the Kyambura chimps can't function as a good team for a simple hunt,

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it doesn't bode well for their future.

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Hatari, however, hasn't come away empty handed.

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In the confusion he did manage to catch a baby.

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He slips off to eat it alone.

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By sneaking off and not sharing the spoils,

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Hatari is showing his true colours.

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Chimps don't need meat to survive, but they love the taste as much as they love the thrill of the hunt.

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Because hunting for monkeys requires so much energy,

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the chimps only do it when times are good and fruits are abundant.

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Right now in the high season, the gorge is a lush paradise.

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Their gorge is five miles long and full of ancient unlogged forest.

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It might be their prison

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but at the right time of year it must seem like being trapped in heaven.

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A good, rich habitat like this can improve the breeding rate for female chimps.

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And Emiti is showing signs of coming into season.

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A female chimp in oestrus causes excitement in the group.

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This mother has a record for fast breeding.

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If she can do it again, there's every hope this time for a girl.

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Female chimps will mate with any number of males,

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even the youngsters, and Hatari isn't going to miss his chance.

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She might have just conceived.

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With any luck, there's a little girl on the way already.

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Brutus and his team are on foot patrol.

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They regularly march the length of the gorge, checking on the progress of fruiting trees.

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Keeping everyone fed is a full-time business.

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The ancient forest here in the gorge is planted by the chimps,

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who disperse seeds as they feed.

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They are essential to the eco-system.

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The very health of the forest depends on their existence.

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They can march eight miles a day looking for food.

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Brutus and the males always go ahead.

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It's their decision-making that leads the community.

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While the boys are on the march, they're also looking out for hostile parties of male chimps.

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After all, a patch of forest as lush as this would normally need defending from invaders.

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The irony is that Brutus and the others don't realise there's no chance of finding trespassers here.

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As the savannah that traps them in also keeps warring chimps out.

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Brutus might be wasting his time, but today he hasn't wasted his energy.

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A lucky find produces some honeycomb.

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With his attention caught up in the sticky sweetness,

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he takes his eye off his real enemy.

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The older Hatari gets, the closer he is to challenging Brutus for his alpha status.

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But until he's ready he has to be satisfied with dominating the females,

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especially when Brutus isn't looking.

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He has spotted little Pamba, the teenage female who is approaching maturity.

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Hatari has her cornered, and she's very frightened.

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Even though she isn't yet at peak fertility, Hatari could still force her to mate,

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and that could involve a beating.

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PAMBA SCREECHES

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Her terrified screams alert Brutus, who recognizes the challenge to his power.

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He won't stand for this sort of behaviour.

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At the sound of Brutus approaching, Hatari slinks off.

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He is still too much of a coward to challenge Brutus directly.

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But it's only a matter of time.

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Unless the Kyamburas are rescued soon, it doesn't matter who's in charge here.

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Neither Brutus's experience nor Hatari's strength

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can lead the community to safety across the savannah.

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Only humans can stop the gorge falling silent

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and at the moment there's no sign of any assistance.

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Driven by her instinct to leave the group and go in search of other males,

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teenage Pamba has climbed to the edge of the gorge.

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She has two choices - make a bid for freedom and risk her life,

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or stay with her community and face an uncertain future.

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Maji the teenage male has followed her.

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He's wondering what she's up to.

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What can Pamba be thinking?

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Does she understand her options?

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Whatever she's thinking, she can't sit there all day.

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Maji climbs down, and Pamba is decided.

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Her urge to leave overrides her fear of what lies beyond, and she takes her first

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tentative steps into the outside world.

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She's brave. She's risking her life.

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If she makes it, she'll be saved.

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And she's gone.

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On the cusp of adulthood, Maji has been independent from his mother for some time.

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He's full of enthusiasm for life

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but he still lacks the skills to make a useful contribution to the team.

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In the dense undergrowth of the gorge a baby bushbuck is frozen still.

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Maji spots it, he creeps in

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and the fawn's instinct to keep still is its undoing.

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Maji reaches into the bushes.

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He makes his first kill.

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Whether he meant to kill it or not, the community would relish this meat.

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But Maji seems confused. He doesn't know what to do with the body.

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If only Brutus were here to show him.

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But Brutus doesn't know what's happened.

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SCREECHING

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He's calling his family ready to move on.

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Realising he's been left behind, Maji leaves the dead bushbuck to rot and rushes to catch up.

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The teenager still has a lot to learn.

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Until he grows up, he's little use to Brutus and his family.

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The sun sets early on the Equator.

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If she's still out there, Pamba will struggle to find a safe place to sleep.

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How will she survive the night alone?

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At night the gorge is no longer a place of sanctuary.

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Maji and his family build nests high in the trees for safety.

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They have to be off the ground before it's dark,

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as the gorge never sleeps.

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Herds of elephants come in to drink.

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Hyenas patrol the pathways, looking for prey.

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None of these creatures would be fun to run into.

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Pamba had better be off the ground if she wants to see another dawn.

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Brutus and his boys once again make their way out into the savannah.

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Their instinct for patrolling their borders has drawn them out to the very edge of their territory.

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Despite never having met a strange male, Brutus still insists on making the effort.

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Perhaps he thinks one day someone is bound to come, and if they do, Brutus will be ready.

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But protecting their community from imaginary marauders

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is a risky business, when it means entering lion country.

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Chimps are one of the most intelligent animals on the planet,

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but if they knew how fast the clock was ticking, surely they'd be trying

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to escape instead of looking for non-existent enemies.

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But they carry on regardless.

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For as far as the eye can see, there is never another chimp in sight.

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But that doesn't mean the area is void of life.

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Their furthest boundary goes right by the human villages.

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Human beings can be as dangerous to chimps as lions.

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Brutus is really pushing his luck here.

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But he continues with his motley crew on their patrol through the tall grasses.

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Occasionally standing up on two legs to give themselves a better view.

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There are some theories of evolution that claim our ancient chimp-like ancestors

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found themselves in isolated patches of forest surrounded by seas of savannah.

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And it was adapting to this new and different habitat

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that caused them too to stand on two legs.

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The start of a journey to becoming human.

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Could the Kyambura chimps' adventures in the savannah

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be an echo of what happened millions of years ago to our own prehistoric relatives?

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Today it's not just the boys that have ventured out.

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Even the mothers and babies have made it over the top in search of precious figs.

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Perhaps the longer the chimps spend in the border between forest and savannah,

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the more they will begin to adjust to the environment.

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Could this be evolution in action?

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If they can adapt to a savannah lifestyle, perhaps their future looks brighter than expected.

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But predators like lions are not the only dangers in the grasslands.

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Far out in the savannah a spark ignites the grasses.

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The plains burn year after year in the dry season

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and the flames can be ferocious.

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If the chimps didn't have the refuge of the gorge, they could be burnt to death out here.

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They'll never become savannah creatures.

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With no escape from their prison in sight, Brutus and the chimps are facing another 20 years inside.

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If they're to survive it, their luck needs to turn.

0:40:290:40:33

Safe inside the gorge, Emiti relaxes with her toddler.

0:40:390:40:43

It's been a while since she last came into season,

0:40:440:40:48

which is a good sign she might now be pregnant,

0:40:480:40:51

and with teenage Pamba gone,

0:40:510:40:53

all hope for a baby girl now rests on Emiti's shoulders.

0:40:530:40:57

THUNDER ROLLS

0:41:100:41:14

Rain comes in from the hills

0:41:210:41:24

and electricity fills the air.

0:41:240:41:27

It's contagious.

0:41:290:41:31

CHIMPS SCREECH

0:41:310:41:34

The wet season is finally here.

0:42:140:42:17

The river swells and the gorge once again becomes a place of abundance.

0:42:170:42:22

And just as well.

0:42:220:42:24

Emiti is definitely eating for two and needs all the nutrition she can get.

0:42:240:42:30

The new wet season means the chimps are once again full of energy -

0:42:320:42:37

bad news for the local colobus.

0:42:370:42:40

The hunting season has started.

0:42:420:42:44

Maji spots an opportunity.

0:42:470:42:49

This time he doesn't waste it.

0:42:490:42:52

He initiates his first hunt.

0:42:520:42:54

The male colobus try to frighten him off.

0:43:000:43:02

He's not much bigger than they are,

0:43:070:43:10

but he bravely carries on, and calls out for the rest of the team.

0:43:100:43:14

Reinforcements arrive. Brutus and Hatari are here to finish the job.

0:43:430:43:48

The whole family joins in.

0:43:590:44:01

The catch is a good one.

0:44:340:44:38

There's more than enough meat to go round.

0:44:380:44:41

A hunt like this really brings the community together.

0:44:410:44:44

But no-one shares with Hatari.

0:44:480:44:52

His bad behaviour has come back to haunt him.

0:44:520:44:56

If he really wants a crack at the title

0:44:560:44:58

he'll have to make friends, not enemies

0:44:580:45:01

something he's yet to learn.

0:45:010:45:03

Teenage Maji enjoys the tail.

0:45:070:45:10

He showed real signs of growing up in the hunt, but he still can't resist playing with his food.

0:45:100:45:16

And there's another young chimp enjoying the spoils here

0:45:180:45:21

that hasn't been seen for some time.

0:45:210:45:24

It's a teenage female.

0:45:240:45:26

There's only one chimp it could be.

0:45:260:45:29

Little Pamba.

0:45:290:45:32

She's alive.

0:45:320:45:35

Her escape across the savannah has failed.

0:45:360:45:39

What she's been through we'll never know.

0:45:390:45:42

But at least she's safe

0:45:440:45:46

and her return is great news for the community.

0:45:460:45:50

For chimps this desperate for babies, every female is of great importance.

0:45:510:45:56

She's returned just in time for a share of the meat.

0:45:590:46:02

Heavily pregnant Emiti is the only one who's not here now.

0:46:120:46:16

Hopefully, she's taken herself off to give birth.

0:46:160:46:20

After their feast the Kyambura community is content.

0:46:310:46:36

Brutus shows his softer side and the family relaxes together.

0:46:390:46:44

Pamba and Maji play. They show no signs of straying today.

0:46:440:46:50

Perhaps Pamba's urge to leave is passing.

0:46:500:46:53

Brutus has held his throne for another year, and kept his motley crew of males busy.

0:46:570:47:02

But Hatari gets stronger by the day.

0:47:050:47:09

The showdown between the two will happen soon.

0:47:090:47:12

But at least for the moment there's peace among the males.

0:47:130:47:18

And there is one other small sign of hope.

0:47:220:47:25

Emiti has returned and, sure enough,

0:47:250:47:28

there's a tiny baby clinging to her fur.

0:47:280:47:33

Barely a week old, it's helpless and can have no idea about

0:47:350:47:40

the claustrophobic world it's been born into.

0:47:400:47:42

Emiti has done it,

0:47:440:47:46

she's produced a daughter.

0:47:460:47:49

The little girl brings new hope.

0:47:510:47:53

She will make all the difference to the Kyambura chimps.

0:47:530:47:57

They've survived the year,

0:48:020:48:04

and in the gorge that's the best they can do,

0:48:040:48:07

take each day as it comes, and resist extinction

0:48:070:48:12

until salvation comes to find them.

0:48:120:48:15

The Kyambura chimps' story is a sad one,

0:48:360:48:40

but it's not unique.

0:48:400:48:42

They're lucky, as they're protected by the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

0:48:430:48:48

But as forests everywhere decrease in size, some chimps are finding

0:48:490:48:53

themselves in direct conflict with their human neighbours.

0:48:530:48:57

150 miles north of Kyambura, chimps are running so short of habitat

0:48:590:49:05

they're forced to raid human crops, and get trapped in snares.

0:49:050:49:09

It takes a dart and an anaesthetic to get them off.

0:49:230:49:27

It's dangerous.

0:49:290:49:31

The forest environment is far from ideal for complex clinical procedures.

0:49:350:49:41

But they have to do it,

0:49:430:49:45

otherwise the chimp will die.

0:49:450:49:48

The chimps that get saved like this are the lucky ones.

0:49:560:50:00

Many others are never found.

0:50:000:50:03

Good job, guys, good job.

0:50:040:50:07

Peter Apell from the Jane Goodall Institute is working at the sharp end of chimp conservation.

0:50:100:50:16

He's fed up with pulling snares off chimps, so he has a vested interest

0:50:180:50:23

in reducing the conflict between chimps and humans.

0:50:230:50:27

You see that? The thing about this snare is that the harder you pull,

0:50:310:50:36

the tighter it gets.

0:50:360:50:38

Eventually, what the trapped chimpanzee will try to do is try to break this branch.

0:50:380:50:44

You see how tough that is? It is really, really strong.

0:50:440:50:48

But eventually, after days of trying, they'll succeed,

0:50:480:50:51

and then they'll move around the forest with a piece

0:50:510:50:54

of that branch tied on to this snare, that is around their wrist, and unless that chimpanzee is saved,

0:50:540:51:01

they could die.

0:51:010:51:03

Peter is tired of patching up injured chimps,

0:51:060:51:10

so he's begun a programme that addresses the cause,

0:51:100:51:12

not just the symptoms, of the plight of chimpanzees.

0:51:120:51:16

Right now we're on the edge of Bugoma Forest Reserve,

0:51:160:51:19

which is one of the last remaining chimpanzee habitats in Uganda.

0:51:190:51:23

Just north of Bugoma Central Forest reserve is Wambaya Central Forest Reserve.

0:51:230:51:29

Several years ago these two forests were connected by riverine forests and chimpanzees used to move freely

0:51:290:51:37

between the two forests, allowing for the possibility of exchange of genes.

0:51:370:51:41

For chimpanzees, connectivity is very important

0:51:430:51:47

for the chimpanzee population to survive.

0:51:470:51:50

What we've realised over the last five years,

0:51:500:51:53

there has been continuous and consistent destruction

0:51:530:51:57

of this corridor by communities in order to sustain their livelihoods,

0:51:570:52:02

in order to sustain their wellbeing.

0:52:020:52:04

The forest has been totally cut down

0:52:060:52:08

and what that has resulted in, more and more siltation of the river bed,

0:52:080:52:13

and that has drastically reduced on the quality and the quantity of water within these rivers.

0:52:130:52:19

Households which would fetch water right next to their home,

0:52:280:52:32

now have to travel several kilometres on a daily basis.

0:52:320:52:36

The villagers are at risk of disease by drinking from the filthy water.

0:52:470:52:51

But there is no alternative.

0:53:190:53:21

Because the forests are being destroyed, the rivers are being spoilt.

0:53:230:53:28

Ten years ago, this river, which is only just about one metre in width,

0:53:300:53:36

was about 20 metres in width, extending from this end of the bank to the other end of the bank.

0:53:360:53:42

And from talking with people who have been here over the last ten years,

0:53:420:53:46

they said the river used to be at least one metre deep.

0:53:460:53:50

If we can restore the forest then this river can recover

0:53:500:53:55

and will provide a vital water source for this community.

0:53:550:54:00

So here in Hoima district, both humans and chimps are depending on forest recovery.

0:54:020:54:09

We are planting approximately 230,000 tree seedlings in this nursery.

0:54:130:54:20

Trees are a very important part of this community.

0:54:220:54:25

The community uses trees as a source of fuel,

0:54:250:54:29

and as a source of wood for construction.

0:54:290:54:32

So by running this project we will be addressing two main needs.

0:54:320:54:38

One, conservation needs, by re-establishing the corridor, and livelihood needs for this community.

0:54:380:54:45

The community owns this project.

0:54:470:54:51

The land on which the nursery is being established was donated

0:54:510:54:54

by the community and, as you can see,

0:54:540:54:56

the community is involved on a daily basis. All this is done voluntarily.

0:54:560:55:02

The reason that the community is volunteering their time, volunteering their land towards

0:55:040:55:10

the establishment of this nursery is because they realise that they are the beneficiaries.

0:55:100:55:17

These trees will be given back to the community to establish their own wood lots

0:55:170:55:23

and to help re-establish the corridor

0:55:230:55:25

through replanting the degraded parts of the riverine forest.

0:55:250:55:30

It's a mammoth task and trees like this will take up to 30 years to mature.

0:55:300:55:36

But, for the chimps in this part of Uganda, at least the work has now started.

0:55:360:55:41

If we get it right here then we shall have a template that

0:55:410:55:46

we can replicate to reconnect several fragmented populations around Uganda,

0:55:460:55:51

like the chimps in the Kyambura Gorge, that are in desperate need for reconnection.

0:55:510:55:56

With projects like this one starting up, there is some hope for the Kyamburas' future

0:56:030:56:07

but they'll need to survive for at least 20 years before they get their own corridor.

0:56:070:56:14

Luckily for them, they're under the protection of the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

0:56:210:56:25

Monitored daily, they're visited by tourists,

0:56:310:56:34

who are excited to catch a glimpse of these great apes.

0:56:340:56:38

They bring welcome revenue, which is a big boost to the local economy.

0:56:430:56:48

The Kyambura chimps are hanging on in their bizarre savannah and forest existence.

0:56:580:57:03

The next 20 years will decide the fate of these chimps.

0:57:060:57:10

Let's hope their closest cousins get a move on, and rescue them,

0:57:130:57:18

before the Kyambura chimps are lost for ever.

0:57:180:57:22

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:57:290:57:33

E-mail [email protected]uk

0:57:350:57:39

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