More fun with nature vs. nurture: Chimps and stick “dolls!”  »

[Photograph by Michael Poliza, National Geographic/Getty Images]

National Geographic has a nice article about little chimps in Uganda and their stick dolls! First they were like, “chimps play with dolls!” but really they are sticks so I didn’t want to get you too excited like they got me excited, EXCEPT that it seems little girl chimps in captivity will choose to play with “feminine” toys like dolls while the boy chimps choose trucks and “masculine” toys. Fascinating!

I love me some monkeys and I know we’re not supposed to anthropomorphize them but omjesus, so adorable! Check it out:

Young females of the Kanyawara chimpanzee community in Kibale National Park, Uganda, use sticks as rudimentary dolls and care for them like the group’s mother chimps tend to their real offspring. The behavior, which was very rarely observed in males, has been witnessed more than a hundred times over 14 years of study….

"Carriers regularly take sticks into the nests they rest in during the day, something that isn’t done with other objects. Individuals are [also] known to play with their sticks while in their nests."

Adorbs! What they are trying to find out, considering the nature/nurture implications, is whether our toy selection is at all gender-based. Scientists saw this division in toy selection in captive chimps but seeing it in wild chimps tells us even more. Scientist point out that in the wild, chimps would not have seen their parents playing with toys like the sticks so this makes a case for a natural desire in males and females to play with different toys. Fascinating!


Guest post: A vegan in Africa!  »

If you’re like me, (and since you’re here I’ll assume you’re at least a little like me), you like animals. You’re even more like me if you hate stupid zoos and much prefer viewing creatures in their natural habitat, running free, wind in their fur or reptilian skin or whatever. Where best to do this? Africa! It’s been my dream forEVER to go on safari in Africa, and this summer I finally went. I mean, there are a gazillion animals there, and you don’t even need to get all National Geographic, camping-out-for-days-in-abandoned-rodent-burrows to see them; basically, you just show up. As soon as I booked my flight, however, I heard the voice in my head say, “What are you going to eat, you dummy? They only serve antelope and alligator over there!” And it’s true that they do serve both those things with alarming frequency, I’m happy to report that being vegan in Africa ain’t so hard! I’ll show you.

View of Capetown’s V&A Waterfront from our room at the Cape Grace Hotel.

My first stop on the trip was Capetown, South Africa, which is basically just San Francisco. Seriously, it bears a striking resemblance to my wonderful hometown: the light, the mountains all around, the fog, the bay complete with an old jail on an island—it was just like being at home, except for all the nasty biltong. Yuck. Anyway, should you find yourself within like 500 miles of Capetown you must stay at the Cape Grace Hotel. No room in the budget for such swankiness? At least save up R550 ($75 U.S.) per person for the insanely amazing vegan tasting menu at the hotel’s restaurant, Signal. That’s the price WITH wine, people. You get five courses, plus a sorbet palate cleanser halfway through (can’t have dirty palates, now can we?), and a different, super-yummy South African wine with each course. It was hard to keep up, but somehow I managed (read: got DRUNK). From the beet carpaccio to the miso risotto, I promise your taste buds have never had it so good. And at the end you get this insane chocolate tart for dessert, complete with a sugar orb full of sorbet! What?! Yes.

Pretty sure this dessert is made exclusively of magic.

That dinner at Signal was one of our first meals in Africa, so we set the bar stratospherically high, but the rest of the food was good too! In Capetown, most places know what vegan is and can accommodate you. Plus there are tons of Turkish and Indian and Asian places that always have at least something vegan-by-default on the menu. Outside of South Africa, it’s a little tougher, but not much. If you’re going on safari (hello, that’s why you’re here right?) then just make super-duper sure to let your outfitter know in advance about your awesomeness. When I was researching the trip, not a single company I talked to told me they couldn’t feed me. They were all happy to make it work. You are paying money, after all! In the end, I went with Sanctuary Lodges, staying at two of their camps in Botswana and one in Uganda. All three were ridiculous—animals everywhere, fantastic guides, breathtaking sunsets—and at all three I was very well fed at every meal. The chefs went out of their way to include me, even going so far as to bake special vegan biscuits (using olive oil instead of butter) for afternoon tea. Man, life ruled on vacation.

Tea time treats including olive oil biscuits in the back.

What’s also super-cool is that in Uganda you can see the endangered mountain gorillas. It costs a shitload, but all the money goes to help protect them, which is (DUH) totally important!

Mountain gorillas have been habituated to humans, but still very much wild.

Uganda also has tons of great Indian food because it used to have tons of people from the Indian subcontinent (before batshit crazy Idi Amin expelled nearly the entire population), which makes eating there pretty easy. Same goes for Kenya, where we stayed with some friends, and which was our penultimate stop on the trip. (Normally I would have just said “second-to-last” but our last stop was so the motherfucking ULTIMATE that it makes sense!)

Curries like this chickpea version are abundant in Uganda and Kenya.

While in Kenya, we only had time to stay in Nairobi, but just like Capetown and other big cities, there was plenty of ex-pat cuisine with vegan items (pizza sans cheese, salads, hummus, etc) so it was no problem. However, due to my not-so-with-it friends, I also found myself at the most horrific place EVER while in Nairobi: a place no vegan should ever know about, let alone visit: Carnivore, the restaurant. Word on the street is that this monstrosity used to serve zebra and cheetah and other wild animals. Now that such things are frowned upon (um, hooray!) the most exotic dish is ostrich. Still, ugh. But, rather than stay in the car and cry, I decided to see what vegan things Carnivore could dish up. Honestly? They did all right! I had a great salad and some curried veggies with plain rice. It still made me mad. I mean, I know so many people who just think it’s too hard to be vegan where they live, and I had a vegan meal at a restaurant called freakin’ CARNIVORE in the middle of Kenya!

Nothing like a good veggie burger to calm your rage.

Want to know how to alleviate frustration like that? Go lay on the beach for five days at the most insanely wonderful, all-inclusive resort where they bring you your every vegan desire (“Champagne and veggie burgers for lunch today, Mrs. Chari?” Surely! “An Arabic feast, complete with hookah delivered to your bungalow?” Of course!) while you lounge in the Indian Ocean wondering however on this planet you got so goddamn lucky. Yeah, that’s how we ended the trip, at Maya in the Seychelles. I know not everyone can do this and I know how blessed I am to have been able to go. Seriously, if you can get there, you will be renewed, re-energized, and catered to beyond your wildest imaginations. They heard we were vegan, and their response was, basically: OK, tell us what you want to eat every day and we’ll make it. Ahhh.

So there you have it. I managed to spend a month traveling around Africa without missing a single meal. Even better, I got to see the animals I love in their homes, and I met many people who are dedicated to keeping them safe. It was life-changing—and I’m already planning my next trip. Who’s in? I mean, baby elephants are CUTE!!!

See? Cute overload.

Sky Chari hails from NJ, so it’s surprising that she bears no resemblance to Snookie (unless she goes on a carrot juice-bender, in which case Sky too can get a little orange). She enjoys traveling this kick-ass world of ours almost as much as she loves eating good vegan food, but she is also quite content to stick around San Francisco, where she’s lived for 10 years, perfecting the art of trying new restaurants and overstaying her welcome at tried-and-true favorites. Read more about her adventures here.

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