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Chimps in Uganda: “These are a few of my favorite things”

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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I’m busy packing up and getting ready for Uganda this week. As I’ve increasingly turned my attention toward my upcoming trip, I’ve been thinking of all the things I’m anticipating. Because I’ve studied in Uganda a few times before, I have developed a long list of favorites, but I’ve chosen just a few to share with you. I’ll no doubt indulge in more detail about each of these in the coming months, so please stay tuned.

Friendship: The Ugandans I’ve met are among the kindest, friendliest, and most selfless people I have ever encountered. I’ve made friends who define the term “strong work ethic,” whose tireless optimism inspires me, and whose innovation and sense of humor never cease to amaze.

Caption: A dear friend, Prossy, and her baby Sophie. Photo: Maureen McCarthy

A dear friend, Prossy, and her baby Sophie. Photo: Maureen McCarthy

Nature: Uganda has offered some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Though the national parks are beautiful, one need not visit them to encounter nature on display. The beauty of nature is in the smallest details, sometimes in the most unexpected places, if you take a moment to look.

Beauty in grand form: an elephant at Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda. Photo: Jack Lester

Beauty in grand form: an elephant at Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda. Photo: Jack Lester

Beauty in the smallest details: a cassava leaf eater. Photo: Jack Lester

Beauty in the smallest details: a cassava leaf eater. Photo: Jack Lester

Science: The experience of conducting field research can be described in many ways. At the best times, it’s thrilling, uplifting, and jaw-droppingly beautiful. At the worst times, it’s frustrating, exhausting, and hope-draining. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling both—sometimes in the same day. No matter what it is, though, it cannot be described as boring.

Surveying a forest fragment with the help of colleagues. Photo: Jack Lester

Surveying a forest fragment with the help of colleagues. Photo: Jack Lester

Food: Oh, the food! Do you want to taste the creamiest avocados and the sweetest pineapples? Would you like to experience what cocoa tastes like straight from the pod? How about the taste of jackfruit, the world’s largest (and my personal favorite) tree fruit? Come visit Uganda!

A jackfruit tree. Photo: Jack Lester

A jackfruit tree. Photo: Jack Lester

Immersion: One of my favorite experiences about traveling is the feeling of being completely out of my element and having no idea what is going on. This may seem like a strange assertion, but it’s true. There are few times in adult life when we must completely submit to an utter lack of control and understanding—with the exception of going to the DMV, perhaps. To feel overwhelmed, delighted, and immersed in a completely foreign experience is to experience the joy of traveling. I hope never to lose this.

A sense of wonder is one of the greatest joys of traveling. At Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda. Photo: Maureen McCarthy

A sense of wonder is one of the greatest joys of traveling. At Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda. Photo: Maureen McCarthy

Previously in this series:

Chimps in Uganda: Two weeks and counting….

Maureen McCarthy About the Author: Maureen McCarthy is a PhD Candidate in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Southern California. She received her Master’s Degree in Experimental Psychology from Central Washington University, where she studied the gestural communication of chimpanzees who have acquired American Sign Language. She has more than a decade of experience studying captive and free-ranging primates. Maureen is currently in Uganda for a year to study the behavioral ecology and genetics of chimpanzees in fragmented forest habitats. Dr. Craig Stanford advises her research. This is Maureen’s fourth trip to Uganda—she’s been there several times before to volunteer as a research assistant and to collect pilot data for her dissertation. When she’s not busy collecting chimpanzee poop or getting malaria, Maureen enjoys birding, hiking, and photography. This research would not be possible without the generous support of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, the USC Jane Goodall Center, Primate Conservation, Inc., and the American Society of Primatologists. Follow on Twitter @mccarthymaureen.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Luc12345 2:35 am 09/18/2012

    Thanks for sharing1
    Luc

    Link to this

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