Coke & Som Smith Photography & Travelogue

Expedition to Dzangha-Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic!


Dzanga Bai ranks as one of our wildlife viewing highpoints of all times!

 

Expedition to the Congo Basin! 

Since the mid 1990’s, after seeing a TV special on the fauna of Gabon, I have been possessed with getting to the Africa that is filled with such amazing species as Forest Elephants, Forest Buffalo, Lowland Gorillas and Mandrills.  For years I day-dreamed of getting to the part of Africa that was so different than the savannah-dominated or bush-veldt habitats that are so much more well known and visited.

A few years ago, after doing some serious inquiring for a trip to Gabon, I found that the price tags were simply too far out of rich for anyone except the mega rich.  Moreover, after communicating with an expedition outfit specializing in Gabon, they were clear that my boy was not welcome for any activity or tour at all.  Evidently the rules at this time for the entire park system in Gabon was clear – no kids!  This was the summer we switched plans and had an amazing three months in South Africa and Madagascar, where kids are more than welcome. (See trip report here)  And all the while ecotourism in Gabon is suffering and very few people are visiting.  Perhaps they should re-evaluate their policies?

But my lust for rainforest Africa was yet to be sated.  A couple years earlier, I started hearing from Jon Hall’s blog and a new Facebook friend, Rod Cassidy, about a lodge in the Central Africa Republic at Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, where simply amazing trip reports and mammal lists were being posted left and right.  In about 2007, Rod and I started to casually communicate regarding the possibility of my family visiting the area.  I really wanted my boy to have the opportunity to see a Western Lowland Gorilla, but the rules for no kids were here as well, at least for the Gorilla treks.  So we decided to put the trip off until Cokie was 15 years or so.

And then Jon Hall went to Sangha Lodge and I read his report (read Jon’s report here).  I was beyond envy with the impressive list of animals and images he got during his two or so weeks at Sangha Lodge.  (See Sangha Lodge’s website here)  I was sold!

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Check out some more images of Dzanga-Ndoki National Park!

Gorillas of Dzanga-Ndoki

Mammals of Dzanga-Ndoki

Birds of Dzanga-Ndoki

People & Places of Central Africa

Forest Elephants of Dzanga Bai

The Ba'aka Pygmy People

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When making travel arrangements for a destination like Dzanga-Ndoki, it’s easy to sit by the computer and explain to your wife, “Oh, a 5 connection flight over 37 hours won’t be so bad…And then we’ll spend a single night in a dusty, underdeveloped capitol city (Bangui), and then proceed on an 11 hour, 600km drive over some pretty tough roads….. It won’t be so bad, honey…”.  But after over three full days of some of the roughest travel the Smith clan had ever attempted, we were finally at Sangha Lodge situated so spectacularly along the banks of the slowly flowing, meandering Sangha River.  ‘Peaceful’ does not even begin to describe the serenity of the lodge and its surrounding nature.  It is simply sublime.

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Bangui

 

Most trips to the Central African Republic start in Bangui. Here is downtown Bangui and this is pretty much one of the only paved roads in the entire nation.  The one traffic signal in the capital is down the road too....

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French influence in Bangui is considerable.  The older architecture, and of course the language (French is still the official language, although I hear there are strong attempts to change this), show evidence of CAR's colonial past.

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Som was very happy to see many of her favorite Thai sauces and spices available in Bangui when we stopped to pick up supplies for our expedition at one of the city's larger Lebanese supermarkets.

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The Long Road to Dzanga-Ndoki

Our drive to Sangha Lodge took us over 600km of dirt/mud track through some of the remotest parts of central Africa.  Thankfully traffic was virtually non-existent with the exception of a local "bus" like this one that would pass by laiden with passengers....I still can't believe this old truck could even move...

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Sangha Lodge

Sangha Lodge is situated on the banks of the spectacular Sangha River

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The wonderful Sangha Lodge is situated on the banks of the slowly meandering Sangha River in the northern stretches of the great Congo Basin.  Sangha Lodge is a well-run lodge that has a great atmosphere.  (Link here) The lodge is surrounded by outstanding rainforest in all directions, and wildlife is common albeit challenging to see, but this is no different than most any rainforest scenario.  The bungalows are clean and comfortable with electricity from dinner time to about 10PM or so.  Our days and nights at the lodge were generally cool and very comfortable.  The dinners were outstanding and special requests can be made for breakfast and for lunch, which is great for the non-French clientele, who like a bit more than the scourge of French-Africa, the infamous petite dejuner.  The beer is ice cold and plentiful, which makes coming home after a long day’s trekking all the more wonderful. 

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 Cokie and Som enjoying the daily spectacular sunset at Sangha Lodge!

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There are numerous trails surrounding the lodge that penetrate deep in to the forest and allow for the viewing of some diurnal but mostly nocturnal species, such as Pottos and Galagos of at least three different species.  We spend many quality hours traversing the trails with excellent luck.

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 Our bungalow at Sangha Lodge.

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Beer was cold and grub was good at Sangha Lodge!

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At the time this entry is written, are now on day 5 of our 9-day stay at Sangha Lodge.  With 23 species of mammals already safely under our belts, we have made great progress in seeing our targets and getting a true sense of the faunal diversity the area has to offer.  While I loath to read and write day-by-day diaries, I’m going to present our stay here by our daily activities as so far each day has been designed with specific targets and activities in mind.

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Day 1 - Dzanga Bai

Dzanga Bai

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Aside from the Western Lowland Gorillas, the region is famous for its series of Bais, which are basically forest clearings that are rich in minerals and water that attract hundreds of animals from all stretches of the forest.  The most famous of the bais is Dzanga Bai, which was our destination today.  I think that Dzanga Bai is just becoming fully discovered on the wildlife-viewing circuit.  There is no doubt that it is one of the world’s most impressive wildlife displays anywhere. 

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 Our crew:  Adtraman, our fearless driver next to Som and Cokie.  To the right are Gras and Christian our amazing guides and trackers!

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To get to the bai, we travel about 12-15 km to the park headquarters at Bayanga to meet the park director and pick up our guide and Ba’aka tracker.  This was to be our daily routine while at the lodge and we quickly became best buds with our new friends, Christian (our park guide) and Gras (our Ba’aka tracker).  These two were to be our guides, protectors and friends for the next two weeks.  I cannot recommend either of them enough.  Christian speaks excellent English and he knows the forest and fauna superbly.  His expertise enhanced our experiences tremendously.  Seek him out if you can.  And Gras was amazing.  His knowledge of the forest was humbling.  I commented once to Cokie, that, “if the world were to go to hell tomorrow, only people like Gras would survive. Pay attention!” 

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 We had to meet Gras's, our Ba'aka tracker's family, along the way to the bai....We never could nail down how many wives or kids he had...

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After formalities at HQ, we drove another 10-15km or so to the trailhead for the bai.  A gentle two kilometer stroll, and after a couple hundred meters in a knee-deep stream, we made our way to the Dzanga Bai viewing platform with was about 7-8 meters above the forest floor, with stunning views of the action at the bai. 

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Part of the trek to Dzanga Bai involved wading in a few hundred meters of water.  The rainy season had just started (the day we arrived basically...) and the waters remained this deep or deeper for most of the trip.  Thankfully there were only Pygmy Crocodiles and snakes in the water...so no worries...

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Cokie emptying out the water from his boots during our trek to the bai...

 

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In the morning of our trip to the bai, we were slammed with an amazing cloud burst, replete with thunder, lightning and at least three inches of rain.  I was initially afraid the day would be a bust, but after we trekked to the bai, and it was still raining, I was very relieved to see the bai was still filled with Forest Elephants and even a few Sitatunga completely oblivious to the weather!

We immediately took our requisite images, even though the light was awful and the rain was still falling…This is always my habit.  I think I have seen too many times that the views you get at the beginning of your stay at a place like this are never guaranteed to get better.  In fact, I’ve often seen them deteriorate and I wish I had taken more images, even though they were crap…But this day only got better!

Initially there were only about 26-30 elephants in the bai.  But as time progressed, we reached a high of 74 Forest Elephants at a single time, with well over 100-150 having visited the bai during the day!  The elephants themselves are worth the visit.  Dzanga Bai is an outstanding setting in which to observe and study the intricacies of elephant behavior.  Watching them guard their favorite mineral or water holes, or romp and play with each other, or how they greeted each other upon entering the forest was simply fascinating. 

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Elephants of Dzanga Bai 

Dzanga Bai gave me my first confirmed sightings of Forest Elephants.  No one told me they came in so many different colors!

Check out our Pbase Image Gallery for more images of Forest Elephants!

One of the more beautiful aspects of the bai visit was watching them cover themselves with a vast variety of mud colors.  The elephants ranged from red to brown to grey to calico and even to a magnificent golden color that was reminiscent of the golden elephant from Thai lore.  Som was particularly enamored with this color of elephant.  The first one we saw was amazing.  All of the sudden, stepping right out of the deep green rainforest came this giant, golden bull elephant.  The rest of the elephants already in the bai were startled by this strange sight and stampeded in the opposite direction for several meters before coming to a cautious stop.  This elephant was clearly noticed to be different by the others and was treated with both fear and deference.  Maybe it was due to the color or maybe he was just a high ranking bull, who knows.  He was clearly different, and we observed at least two younger bulls approach him, greet him and take their trunks and rub them over his body to take his mud and put it on themselves to make his color theirs. 

 

Watching this stunning golden elephant stroll out of the primary forest of Dzanga was surreal.

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Bathing in the muds of the forest gave elephants at Dzanga Bai various colors.  Where they found the golden color, who knows...

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Some of them were even red!

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Here's one trying to add a little color to himself...and having a great time too it would appear...

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Calico was another version common on the bai that morning...

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Red bull!

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 I still can't get over the golden elephants...

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 And of course "standard grey" was an option too...

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And of course beige.... 

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Check out our Pbase Image Gallery for more images of Forest Elephants!

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For the first couple hours, there were basically two species in the bai – Forest Elephants and Sitatunga.  Although the activity was outstanding, the diversity was low.  There were several new bird species for us – loads of ibises, hornbills, vultures and other species.  But the African Grey Parrots were by far the most enjoyable to watch.  Present in the hundreds, the parrots would feed on the minerals in the mud and then fly off in large flocks in response to an elephant trumpet or some other stimulus.  Really great birds for sure!  But a noisier bunch of birds would be hard to find.  One could barely hear oneself think!

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African Grey Parrots were in the bai in the high hundreds.

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A noisier bunch of birds would be hard to find!

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I was really hoping to see two rarer species – Bongo and Red River Hogs.  So far no luck.  Christian was very careful to lower our expectations for either species.  I of course had high expectations, but I am also a realist.  There have been so many trips where we’ve been unable to see our main targets.  But at around two o’clock, after a very lazy but fascinating time at the bai, I noticed what I initially thought was a large male Sitatunga come from the far side of the forest.  But after another good look, I knew I was mistaken.  At almost the same exact moment, Som, Christian, Glas and I screamed, “Bongo”! 

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 Before we knew it, our patience was rewarded with an "explosion" of Bongos coming out of the forest!

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We were thrilled to see so many Bongos during our first visit to Dzanga Bai.

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After the first one, another came out and then another. I was SO happy to see our first Bongo!  And then three!  But a few seconds later, another and then another came out.  And before long the forest exploded with dozens and dozens of Bongos!  Simply astounding!  We eventually counted at least 39-42 Bongo that day (the were a bit tough to count as they bunched together a bit and they all looked the same…).  They stayed and twirled their ears and tails for a couple glorious Bongo-filled hours! 

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Bongos!

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We were lucky to see what was perhaps the last bongos of the season.  During our stay in the region, no other bongos were seen.

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We were fortunate to see at least 39 of these spectacular bovids!

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Several Sitatunga were also grazing in the bai this afternoon.

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 Female Sitatunga were also very common in the bai this week.

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I have to say, the wildlife viewing at Dzanga Bai has to be some of the most relaxing I’ve done anywhere.  Som and our guides were able to get in some nap time while I kept watch.  The platform had nice chairs and shelves to rest camera gear and binoculars.  We maxed out our time in the bai and stayed until a bit after 4PM.  The guides seem to want to boogie around then.  We hoped to stay longer but perhaps it was good to head out early, as our trek back to the truck netted us a large and cooperative troop of Putty-nosed Monkeys in the forest.  We watched them scurry through the canopy, leaping between trees in the late afternoon sun. 

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A leaping Putty-nosed Monkey coursing its way through the forest canopy of Dzanga Bai.

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The time spent at Dzanga Bai can be very relaxing.  Som is catching some zzzz's while I keep watch for Bongos on the viewing platform.

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Som was once again on full alert, and while we were walking through the jungle, she stopped the entourage and said, “Coke!  Blue Duiker!”  Sure enough, she somehow spotted a completely motionless Blue Duiker in poor light in the dense understory of the rainforest!  How the hell she does this, I will never know.  If it weren’t so damn common for her to spot these sorts of things, on all of our expeditions, I would assume that it was just a fluke or a lucky accident…But it is not.  Som has serious spotting skills.

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I still can't believe that Som actually spotted this little Blue Duiker in the fading light of day one...

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First day – five lifer species and some outstanding wildlife experiences!

 

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Day 2 – Western Lowland Gorillas

Our very first Western Lowland Gorilla silverback, "Makumba"!

Check out our Pbase Gorilla Gallery for more images!

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Of course we wanted to nail the premier species at the very beginning of our stay here at Dzanga-Sangha.  After making our request to see the gorillas known to HQ the previous day, we made our way to see them at Bai Hoko, located about 32 miles down one of the worst mud tracks on earth.  The roads of the park were built by the original logging operation in the early 1970’s and had not been substantially improved since 1972!  With holes that can (and have!) swallowed jeeps whole, the 32km track can take hours to traverse.  One massive mud hole after another presented little challenge for our then-working, Land cruiser.  But after our second time riding at an angle of over 50 degrees tilt, I was a bit (try a LOT!) concerned about taking even a strong 4X4 down this road.  It was truly one of the worst roads I’ve ever attempted.  But our driver, ‘Adtraman’, was particularly skilled at maneuvering the challenging road and we made it exactly at 9:05AM!  Unfortunately that was 5-minutes AFTER the morning gorilla-viewing group had left to see the gorillas!

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 The roads at Dzanga are pretty rough-going.  Downed trees are very common, resulting from the previous night's elephant activities....

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"Bob the hole", was the name we affectionately dubbed this spot on the road to Bai Hoku, which claimed numerous 4X4 trucks this day.  After spending well over an hour excavating this section of the track, trucks were able to pass....But then there was the trip back!

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In typical Africa fashion, although they knew we were on the way and we were to go on the morning trek, they left without us.  They told us the trackers would be back for us in a couple minutes for us to catch up with the group, which ended up not being a group at all – just one lone traveler who had just happened to be in the area that day!  But after waiting for TWO hours for a tracker that never came, Christian finally had it and told them to get us another tracker and to stop wasting our time.  The time was not a complete waste however.  We did nail a new species of Horseshoe Bat which was present in the 100’s in a cave down by a waterfall near the base camp.  We explored the gallery forest of the area as well as a nearby bai.

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What appear to be Noak's Roundleaf Bats were occupying the cave near Bai Hoku camp.

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Western Lowland Gorillas: The Makumba Group

But we were all glad that Christian insisted that another tracker take us to the gorillas.  I was thinking that without a tracker, there could be no way we could find them on our own…  So we began our 20-minute walk down a very clear and wide trail along very level ground to the gorillas….  Yes – they were located directly on the trail only 20 or so minutes from where we had been sitting for two hours!  I gave Som one of those, “What the fu*&$^%^ck!?” looks….She responded with a similar glazed-over looks…Anyway we didn’t care any more!  There was a female gorilla sitting directly in front of us!

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Our first glimpse of a wild Western Lowland Gorilla!

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For the next hour or so, we proceeded catch a glimpse of Western Lowland Gorilla life, which for this morning consisted mostly of sitting in one place, slowly eating termites in very poor light in a dark and dense forest.  The light and the plethora of sticks and sprigs in the faces of the gorillas made photography next to impossible.  For what seemed like an eternity, the gorillas simply stayed in one spot and did very little.  But just about when we were about to call it a day, ‘Makumba’ (“Speed”), the group’s silverback, decided to get moving!  We followed him for several dozen meters through the dense forest with eventual good light and some slightly better photo opps!  The rest of the 9-member Makumba Group followed suit and we finally saw some good action. 

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"Makumba" is the silverback for this group. His name means 'speed' as he moved his group so quickly during the habituation process, that they often had a difficult time locating them....

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One of the three females in the Makumba Group.

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There about five or six young ones in the group during the summer of 2012.

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The activity highpoint for the morning was when a couple adult females and some of the young climbed at least 25 meters up a couple flimsy young trees to feed.  Watching the incredible and for some reason surprisingly agile gorillas make their way up the trees was fascinating.  And finally they were in good light with full body exposure!  We were interested when we saw one of the females scold a couple of the younger ones.  Our guide explained to us that the female scolding them was not their mother and she was often harsh on these two.  Interesting group dynamics…

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This was the first time I had seen gorillas climb so high.  They spent considerable time high up in the canopy feeding on fruit.

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One of the females and her young heading up to the canopy to feed.

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Heading up!

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Makumba!  Quite an impressive individual.

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Farewell new friend....Or so I thought...

Check Out Our Video of Som's Experience with the Lowland Gorillas

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Before we knew it, our hour with the Western Lowland Gorillas was at an end.  I was so happy that Som was able to see her gorilla!  She was happy of course, but she did mention that it was somehow not as exciting or “wow” as she thought it would be.  I understood what she was saying.  Today’s experience was similar for me.  I was happy and impressed for sure, but the level of excitement and adrenaline-rush was no where near what I had experience in Rwanda some twenty years earlier.  Perhaps it was the heat?  Maybe it was the lack of extreme activity on the part of the primates?  Maybe it was how amazingly easy it was to reach them and see them?  Maybe it was how our little son, Cokie, was not allowed to see them too.  Who knows.

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Last generation's gorillas...

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Night Walk

Som and I were ecstatic to see our first Long-tailed (Or maybe Tree Pangolin) Pangolin ever.  And it was only a couple meters outside the main compound of Sangha Lodge!

Although we did catch a quick glimpse of a Long-snouted Mongoose on the drive in to Bai Hoko, we were only up a couple species from the day before.  We were hopeful that we could net a couple more species on a nigh walk however.  We did!  Within about three steps in the forest next to the lodge, we got a great sighting of a Tree Pangolin slowly working his way through the forest.  I was a bit bummed that the three beers and tequila shots I had at dinner slowed my reflexes so I was only able to get a crappy image!  And maybe it was due to the major thicket of spiny vines that nearly strangled me that prevented me from getting better images….But it was great to see such an elusive mammal that was neither dead nor caught on our behalf!  And a few more meters later, we got a frustratingly poor, albeit prolonged, view of a Demidoff’s Galago, transporting itself as if by Star-trekian teleportation, to various locations of one of the rainforest giants near the Sangha jungle. 

 

Day two – another 5-species day!

 

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Day Three – And Then We Rested

After three solid days of international and trans-Africa travel, followed by two rigorous wildlife-watching days, we decided we needed a rest.  So this day was our “day off”.  We did however get a couple more species during a nice trek through the trails of Sangha Lodge.  There are several kilometers of trails that head in various locations throughout the rainforest next to the lodge.  Som got a good look at an African Giant Squirrel near the first bench of the trail.  We proceeded slowly down the trails keeping the “leftward” direction that Rod had advised, in hopes of seeing De Brazza’s Monkeys in the swampy areas near the end of the trail.  We were a bit late in the morning though as we did not see anything other than hornbill activity. 

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Our first of several African Giant Squirrels (?) seen in the area.  Of course this one was spotted by Som...

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We read in Carmen and Torbjörn Lundqvist’s report about a Lord Derby’s Anomalure that was making its daytime roost in a hollow tree near our bungalow.  Even though I knew the odds were low that he would be there still, as their trip was at least a couple months earlier, I decided to enlist the help of the one of the lodge workers who gladly (for a tip) showed me the location of this very rare gliding rodent.  Sure enough, we peered to this massive hollow tree and say this outstanding primitive primate.  Sadly, I did not have my camera at that moment and by the time I returned, it had bolted.  The next morning however, I came more well-prepared and luckily he was still there and we were able get some shots.

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This little Lord Derby's Anamolure was still hanging out in the forest adjacent to Sangha Lodge.  Very cool critter!

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Initially we found this Anomalure in a hollowed-out tree.  As soon as he saw my spotlight, he bolted up and out, and this is the only image I was able to capture...Luckily he came back the next morning...

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Our night hike this evening gave us less-than-satisfying glimpses of what we were pretty sure was an Elegant Needle-clawed Galago.  Although our look was frustratingly poor, we know it was one of the long-tailed galagos in the area.  Strangely though it had a very distinctive white tip on its tail which our literature did not show for this species.  It did look much more like the Small-eared Galago (Otolemur garnettii), although the literature is poor and this species’ distribution may not put it here at all…  For now we’ll go with the Elegant Needle-clawed…

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One of the many Thomas's Galagos seen during our stay at Sangha Lodge.  Sadly none of them gave us any decent photo-opps...

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Day 3 – Four more species!

 

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Day Four – Cokie Gets His Gorilla!!!

Days like this are rare in a wildlife watcher’s career.  Easily our best day so far (I am writing this entry on day 5…), our fourth day at Dzanga-Sangha will go down in Smith family lore as on of our finest for sure. 

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"Bob the Hole" strikes again...

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The day started with a trip down the road from hell once again.  Even though I promised myself never to travel that road again after the near-death tippings we had on the first trip, we quickly learned that most of the activities to be had in the park were located at Bai Hoku.  Consequently the trip down that road was a necessary evil.  While road crews had been feverishly working on fixing some of the problem areas, today’s trip, while it was not so terrifying, was more problematic due to the large numbers of trees downed by elephants the day before.  We spent at least a couple hours clearing trees and debris left by the elephants.  And one of the trucks in our caravan got very stuck when it topped out trying to cross “Bob the Hole” (each of the literally dozens of holes along the track were well known and famous to our guides.  Each one had tales to tell…and each had a name…at least after we traversed it….).  After another hour trying to free this hopelessly stuck truck, we were able to get back on the road. 

Our goals today were to see the Agile Mangabeys and do the “Bai Walk” at Bai Hoko.  Of course when we arrived, the tracker for the mangabeys was not there.  I really didn’t expect him to be, so this was no surprise.  I got the sense that there was no real system for the mangabeys even though they were supposed to be one of the main attractions…In fact, there appeared to be no real system for anything at Bai Hoku…  So we decided to go for the bai walk, which ended up being absolutely spectacular.  Once again, the trek was a very gentle stroll over about eight to ten kilometers of Forest Elephant-trails through the network of several smaller and one larger bai. 

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Entering the dense Dzanga-Ndoki forest on our "bai walk". 

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Our "bai walk" afforded us many excellent views of Forest Elephants and many other species.  Being able to walk next to these magnificent animals was a great experience.

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In our second bai, we caught one of my main targets – Forest Buffalo!  I was thrilled to see at least 26 of these magnificent bovids lying in a wallow.  We spent the better part of an hour with these critters trying to capture ever better images with good luck.  After getting very good, close-up looks at these cows, I cannot for the life of me understand how they can be classified as the same species as the Cape Buffalo.  Aside from them being a bovid, there is little morphological similarity at all.  Perhaps their DNA comparisons tell another story.  Or perhaps this is one of mammal taxonomy’s many misnomers waiting to be corrected.

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I was thrilled to see my first Forest Buffalo.  We came across a herd of nearly 30 individuals a few kms in to our bai trek.

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I still find it hard to believe they are the same species at the Cape Buffalo of eastern and southern Africa.  But evidently they due hybridize with the savanna buffalo of central Africa.  (Check out our images of the hybrids from Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park)

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Traversing our way from one bai to another along the complex network of elephant trails and knee-deep streams was outstanding.  The bird activity was amazing with a frustratingly huge number of species I will simply never be able to identify.  I did manage a couple images of the dozens of species seen fluttering through the dense dark forest gallery.

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Black-casqued Wattled Hornbills were very common on this morning's bai walk.  Here we have nice male-female pair observing our movements in the forest.

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Red-tailed Rufous Thrush (Ant Thrush) (Neocossyphus rufus) were seen coursing their way through the meso-layer of the rainforest.

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The bais on this trek, while still very impressive, had nowhere near the vast numbers of critters as Dzanga Bai.  This was more than made-up-for by the ease at which we were able to simply stroll right through the middle of these amazing places.  With Sitatunga galloping on one side of the bai, the glossy ibises screaming overhead and the elephants noting our presence on the far side of the bai, our bai-walks were simply amazing. Listening to the Grey-cheeked Mangabeys screaming at the far side of our final bai was awesome. Our bai walk was over after about 8-10 kilometers and we agreed that it was one of the most memorable treks we’d ever done together as a family. 

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Grey-cheeked Mangabeys were seen (or heard) virtually every day while in the Dzanga-Ndoki region.

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Agile Mangabeys

Upon reaching base camp Bai Hoku, of course we found out that the trackers, who had finally returned, had not found nor marked the location of our main target for the day – the Agile Mangabey.  But we were not to be let down!  With nearly three hundred of them in what is known as a “super group”, we were intent on seeing this spectacle.  The fact that the trackers knew only “yesterday’s” location did not stop us from trying to see this rare species of mangabey.  The trackers tried fruitlessly to dissuade us from trying to see them with warning of one-and-a-half to two hour trek to get to their probable location.  I let them know that whatever it took was just fine with us…  I mean, any time in the forest is time spent with the possibility of seeing critters!

 

We finally found our Agile Mangabey mega-group.  Of the 300-400 living at Bai Hoku, we came across well over 200 of them!

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The Mangabeys are habituated and seemed to enjoy leaping overhead and watching us watch them....

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Enjoying a little fruit on a hot afternoon...

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Relaxing in the canopy...

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A mother and her newborn leaping through the canopy near Bai Hoku

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Well, after about an hour’s fast-paced (Ba’aka Pygmy style!) trek through the forest, we were able to come across a very sizable group of the primates.  We watched as they leaped from tree to tree and frolicked both in the canopy and the ground for about an hour or so before we decided to head back with another successful sighting under our belts! 

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Cokie's Gorillas!

Well, on the way to see the mangabeys, I had taken quite a spill in a rotten log and hurt my leg a bit.  And it was pretty achy the entire trek.  After our time with the monkeys, I decided I needed to rest a bit and soak my dogs in a cool rainforest stream.  What a lovely and serene spot it was.  Nice and shady with lots of bird and insect activity to keep us entertained.  Again, I couldn’t identify squat!

 

 

Cokie's picture of HIS very own gorilla!  I still cannot believe that he actually saw wild Western Lowland Gorillas

Just as I was totally getting in to the scene, Gras and Christian came over to us with excited looks.  They said to us in a forceful whisper, “Shhh!  Gorillas!  Gorillas are coming!”  That’s all I needed to tell Cokie to get up and follow them immediately!  I was not yet completely ready to get going but I wanted to make sure that my son had that amazing opportunity.  So off he went!

At the beginning of all of this, it was clear that anyone below 15 was not allowed by international agreement to see the gorillas.  While of course we were disappointed by this, we were in agreement with the logic behind the rule.  But today the rules were about to be broken!  I mean, of course Cokie was not allowed on the treks to go and see the Gorillas, the Gorillas obviously did not read the same rule book!

I will never forget watching my 9-year old son, walking through the, this time, clear and very wide-open forest, to see his first Gorilla.  Initially it was one of the young ones coming through the understory toward us.  I had a great sense of relief and accomplishment rush through me when I finally saw my son’s eyes land on that magnificent animal.  And the smile on his face was worth every ounce of hardship and expense in making this trip happen.  “Dad, this is awesome.  I am seeing gorillas!”

 ***

Watching the Makumba group for the second day with my son will always be remembered as a high point of the trip. I only wish this one had not started smoking crack in front of my boy!

***

I'll never forget this look on Makumba's face.  In his mind, I am sure he is saying, "Oh crap. The tourists are here AGAIN!"

***

For the better part of 45 minutes we watched in complete solitude and raw wilderness, this amazing wildlife spectacle.  There were no WWF watchers.  No line of tourists waiting their turn.  Just my family and our now-friends, Christian and Gras, watching this lovely Gorilla family play in the forest.  This experience FAR surpassed the previous day’s viewing activity.  This was raw and extemporaneous.  The Gorillas knew they were being watched but somehow I got the sense that they knew they were “off duty”.  They were romping and sprinting through the wide open forest, climbing bushes, thrashing the vegetation in play and fun.  I was simply in heaven, but also a bit worried that we were only on day FOUR of a TWO month expedition and there was little chance that we’d ever be able to match this! (Well, I was wrong – read the other FOUR trip reports from this summer!)

 ***

We came across at least three species of Rope Squirrels during out stay at Dzanga-Ndoki, but this Fire-footed Rope Squirrel was the only one that stuck around long enough to be photographed.

***

Day Four – Six more species including Peter’s Duikers & Red-cheeked and Fire-footed Rope Squirrels (both seen on the elephant trails of the bai walk), Water Chevrotain (seen on the drive in) and what was most likely a Giant Forest Hog (seen very briefly on the drive out, after we finally fixed the electrical problem our car was experiencing!).    GREAT DAY!

 

 ***

 

Day Five – In Search of De Brazza’s!

After the intensity of the previous day’s activities, we decided to take it easy in the morning and simply enjoy Sangha Lodge.  Sangha is really a fantastic place situated in a very intact corner of rainforest.  The forest seems to be primary and wildlife abounds.  The sheer height of the trees however can make wildlife viewing challenging, but the sounds of the forest betray the fact that there is a wealth of species in the forest around Sangha.

Our afternoon goal was De Brazza’s Monkey.  After speaking with Angelique, from the WWF offices, I learned that the “hunting” in and around the Sangha River area, may have just about cleaned the region of this species.  As they tend to hang out near water, they have become easy prey for both the legal and illegal hunting trade.  But with advice from her and Christian’s contacts, we proceeded to search for the species at the following locations:  Doli Lodge, the “old logging concession” and a few kilometers down the road from Bayanga Village along the bamboo forested streams.  The trails were hot and muddy and there were plenty of villagers in all directions.  Needless to say we found no monkeys.  We ended up settling for a young semi-wild De Brazza's monkey that was hanging around a poacher's hut at Bayanga.  It was nice to see it, I just wish its parents weren't recently hunted...

De Brazza's Monkey.  This little guy was hanging out near the house of the poacher that no doubt killed his parents. I've seen this sort of behavior a number of times in areas rife with poaching.

 ***

After enjoying Doli Lodge’s LAST two beers, and watching a sublimely gorgeous sunset over the Sangha River, we proceeded on what was to become a damn good night safari.  First we hiked some hidden trails in and around the visitor’s center at Bayanga, where we encountered Dwarf Epauletted and Egyptian Fruit bats as well as Angola and African Sheath-tailed Bats.  Eventually we were turned around by a nearby elephant we didn’t want to meet up with… 

 ***

Enjoying a celebratory drink with Christian after a phenomenal first week at Dzanga-Ndoki!

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The Sangha River sunsets were outstanding.

 ***

This was pretty much every day, even with the onset of the rainy season.

***

We spotlighted for the entire 15 or so kilometers back to Sangha Lodge.  Nothing more than an African Wood Owl on the main road but we did find a particularly productive tree that gave us our very first Potto and perhaps as many as two Thomas’s Galagos!  And before reaching home we got an excellent sighting of a Gambian Giant Pouched Rat, slowly crossing the road and in to the forest.

 ***

Cokie opted for a nap instead of joining us for the sunset.  But at least he was ready for a great night safari!

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A Singing Fruit Bat (Epomops franqueti) (ID confirmation appreciated) seen on our night walk in the Sangha forest.

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This spectacular Singing Fruit Bat was actually enjoying fruit!

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We saw numerous Edward's Pottos at Dzanga-Ndoki but none gave us very good photo-opps.  This pudgy little dude was seen just up the road from Sangha Lodge.

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While you can't see his head, at least we get a glimpse of this one's stump-tail...

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Although great views were difficult, seeing these glaring headlights during a night safari is always exciting!

***

 

Frasier's Eagle Owl were also fairly common at night in the area of the Lodge and Bayanga Village.

***

Day Five – SIX new species!

 

 ***

Day Six – Cokie’s Moment of Truth

A couple months before coming to Africa, I asked Cokie if he wanted to participate in the Ba’aka Net-hunting experience.  He responded with great enthusiasm and said he even wanted to be the one to “dispatch” whatever we caught!  I was not quite sure what to make of his enthusiasm for the possibility of killing another living creature, but at least he had a part of our expedition that was going to be more for him than for his wildlife-crazy parents….

Not quite sure what to expect from an experience like this, we all started the day with an open mind.  I was secretly hoping they would catch something we had yet to see on the trip thus far, but I was actually thinking they wouldn’t really catch anything at all….

Upon exiting the Sangha Lodge road, we came upon about a dozen or so Ba’aka on the road.  I was not sure what was going on as every single one of them started to pour in to the small cargo area of our Landcruiser!  I mean every single person!  And then Christian explained they were ALL part of our hunting party!  This was going to be very interesting!

***

Our Landcruiser jam-packed with our Ba'aka Pygmy hunters.  It wasn't long before they broke in to some of the most awesome music I'd ever heard.  Absolutely beautiful. (Check out our Youtube video with some of the music!)

 ***

As we started down a yet-to-be-explored (by us) road in the reserve, they broke in to song.  Within seconds I learned that the Ba’aka are some of the most musical people I had ever heard.  One song after another and each of the passengers had an integral and beautiful part of the surprisingly complex songs.  And each of them were simply beautiful.  We recorded at least portions of three songs and I already wish we’d done more.  Simply amazing music.  (While we were at Sangha, we met Geoffrey Clarfield, the curator for the Association of Cultural Equity (the Allan Lomax Archives) of Musicology who was here to meet up with Louie Sarno who has been studying and living with the Ba’aka for years. And our afternoon with Sarno and Lomax was absolutely fascinating.  Allan was a great conversationalist and Louis’s story was absolutely amazing.)

After we found a suitable spot in the forest (basically a spot that looked just like every place else), about 10 km in to Sangha Reserve, we unloaded and started trekking in to the dense jungle.  Listening to how loud the Ba’aka were walking through the forest, both Som and I were convince they wouldn’t catch a bloody thing!  They were singing and jokifng and speaking at high volumes to each other, all the while strolling through the forest as if they were heading to a party.

******

After finding a suitable (albeit seemingly random) spot, we all entered the Sangha Reserve forest to begin the hunt.

*** 

Once they found a suitable patch of forest, they started to stretch their nets out, joined end-to-end through out the forest for about 50 meters or so.  The goal was to create a barrier of sorts and find some unwary critter on the other side and basically funnel it in to the net where he eventually meets its end.  But with all the talking and yelling by the Ba’aka, we were convinced that they would net nothing.

Once they basically worked their way to the net and got zilch, they would relocate to another area of the forest.  After repeating this a few times, they started to show some success.  We heard excited screams from one end and Christian said they had a blue duiker cornered.  It got away.  They relocated and tried again…And then saw another duiker!  This was actually working!  And before you knew it, we heard very loud screams in the forest and it was clear now that they really had something, and sure enough, they had a small Blue Duiker in the net and three of them, one man, and two women (one of whom was very pregnant), pounced on the poor critter!  It actually worked!  Christian reminded us that they had been hunting like this for thousands of years, so they really did know what they were doing.

 Now was the moment of truth. Cokie rushed to the scene with the speed and agility of a Ba’aka. As soon as he reached the soon-to-be-killed animal, and heard first-hand the intense and very human-like screaming of the soon-to-be-killed duiker, his mood changed drastically. Before he knew what it was like, Cokie very much wanted to be the hunter. But when faced with actually killing the screaming and helpless duiker, he had a serious change of heart. When asked if he wanted to see them kill the animal, his eyes welled up with tears and he headed off to the forest facing the opposite direction.

***

I could hardly believe they actually caught this little Blue Duiker.  The sound of it screaming was enough to make one question one's enthusiasm for the hunt. But it was nevertheless one of the most powerful experiences of the entire summer, for all of us.

**

This Video May be Tough to Watch But it is Raw & Real

 

Take a Look at This YouTube Video of Gras Calling a Duiker

Cokie was definitely affected by the experience.  I am glad he had such a powerful experience.

***

Cokie inspecting the duiker.  This was the first time he ever touched a freshly killed animal.  For him, I doubt he will ever think that food comes from "Safeway" again...It will always be more real for him now.

***

 

Even Som had mixed feelings after the hunt.

 ***

Our hunting party!

 ***

Cokie would not let the little duiker go for the entire journey home.

 ***

I love this lady's carved teeth!  And stained tongue!

*** 

As a parent, I was asking myself the entire time whether or not this was simply too much for my little man.  The emotions in my own head were intense, and I’ve seen death at many levels over the years.  But for my son, this was his first experience with mammalian death.  The sounds of terror and pleading coming from the helpless duiker were more than powerful.  They were humbling.  The experience Cokie had in Madagascar with the pig that was running around our camp and then reappearing decapitated on the back of the bicycle an hour later, has now been upstaged by the horror of watching an animal being hunted and killed right before his very eyes.  Cokie was changed forever this day.

While we were witnessing the hunt, we spent much of our time in the forest learning the Ba’aka ways and some of their ethno-botany.  Loads of tasty treats await the Ba’aka in their forest.  One particular seed could only be eaten after it passed through the gut of an elephant.  We found both the “before” and “after” variety and sampled the lovely buttery and coconutty flavor of the “after” nut.  Wild garlic was also found – both in tuber and stem form.  We drank from the water-liana and tasted the freshest water we’ve had in ages!

***

 

Liana juice anyone?

***

Actually the water from the vines is excellent and very refreshing.  And it gushes out!  There is about a liter of water in this length of vine.

***

Our morning spent with the Ba’aka was one of the most powerful experiences thus far on the great 2012 Africa Expedition. From the music, to the festive trekking through the forest to the death of their favorite food, the Ba’aka culture is one we’ve grown to truly appreciate and respect. I am very grateful that my family and I have had the honor of experiencing a small part of their world.

Making twine in the Sangha Forest...

This eventually became Cokie's bracelet and necklace...


An Afternoon With Louis Sarno

Our time spent with Louis Sarno was absolutely fascinating.  Here is Louis with his family at Sangha Lodge. 

***

Louis Sarno's book about life with the Pygmies.  Louis has spent roughly the last thirty years living with and studying the Pygmies of the Congo Basin.

***

Louis Sarno's son, Samedi (in the yellow shirt).  This young man was the star in his own Hollywood movie about his and Sarno's life in the forests of Sangha (check out the "Samedi" movie website here).

***

Lunch with Geoffrey & Louis at Sangha Lodge

***

Louis's wife and youngest adopted child, who was absolutely terrified of Toby...

***

Our afternoon was spent boating up the Sangha River for a few kilometers hoping to spot some wildlife along the banks.  While it was a spectacular and relaxing cruise, there was little in the way of wildlife to be seen in the forested banks, aside from a few hornbills.  I am surprised how little wildlife is seen around the forest edges here actually.  I get the sense that hunting, both legal and illegal, is completely out of control.  The sheer amount of bushmeat one can see in Bayanga alone testifies to the fact that dozens of animals are killed every day in the forests.  And Bayanga is just one of several villages that border the reserve and park.  Another possibility is that the forest is so vast, that the wildlife is simply diffuse and harder to spot as they are spread out in the forest.  But after seeing several groups of unidentifiable monkeys bolting through the canopy for their lives, makes me suspect the former explanation.

 ***

Bushmeat for sale in Bayanga Village.  There is so much of this available that it is a miracle there is anything at all still existing in the forest!

***

Day Six – No new species.  One dead Blue Duiker

 

 

Day Seven – Back At Dzanga Bai

I really wanted a Red River Hog!  I was not going to give up easily.  So we headed back to Dzanga Bai, which is what I thought would be our best chance.  This time we left very early (6 AM) to better our chances.  Upon arrival to the bai, we saw about 35 elephants and a nice herd of Forest Buffalo, bringing our total to over 40!  But NO hogs!  Damn!  So we proceeded to while away the day hoping for an “explosion” of hogs to happen at any moment….But nothing.  In fact, there were not even any Bongos today visiting the bai.  Only a maximum of 58 Forest Elephants and a few Sitatunga were the only visitors to the bai.

While we didn’t add any new species to our list this day, we were treated to a wealth of Forest Elephant behavior.  Sitting on the viewing platform watching the elephants go about their daily activities was at times fascinating and at times quite dull.  Swatting away the sweat bees all afternoon was a bit much but there was always some sort of reward.  Fights or squabbles broke out often and there was always something going on worth observing. 

***

Battle of the titans at Dzanga Bai!

 ***

Observing elephant behavior was worth every minute and Euro we spent visiting the bai.  We witnessed a plethora of various behaviors but nothing was more entertaining than the fights and sparing matches between the bulls.

 ***

 These two went at it ALL DAY!

 ***

Today was no where near as colorful as our first day on the bai that followed a significant downpour.  It had not rained for about six days by this point and there was significantly less colorful mud for the elephants to use to paint their bodies.  Perhaps visiting in the rainy season does have its benefits after all.

 

Day Seven – 5 species, no new ones and NO hogs!

 

 

Day 8 – Getting Ready for Part II!

After ten amazing days at Sangha Lodge, we were now ready to prepare for the great drive back to Bangui!  Ugh!  We weren’t looking forward to the drive or to the guest house, but it was now time for the second leg of our Africa expedition to begin.  In two days, we’d be in Kenya if all goes according to plan!

The drive back to Bangui was actually accomplished in record time – 9 hours.  We enjoyed our last evening in Bangui with a night on the town with Adtraman and Evlyn.  We had the most amazing time at Sangha Lodge and are counting the days until we can return once again, and get those damn Red River Hogs! 

 ***

 

The road back was wide open and in good condition.  We just missed however a large tree felled by an elephant that caused a 16-hour blockage!  Whew!

***

Celebration at Bangui's nightlife district (about three pubs lined up side-by-side...).  Some of the most amazing wildlife-watching days ever!

 ***

Enjoying a spectacular French dinner in Bangui.  French food in the city was plentiful and delicious!  Evlyn and Som are enjoying their meal at Relais des Chasses near the US Embassy in Bangui.

 

***


More Critters From Dzanga-Ndoki

I never got tired watching the Bongos of Dzanga Bai!

***

I feel very fortunate that we may have caught their last appearance for the season. None were seen by any visitors for the next 9 days during our stay at Sangha Lodge.

 ***

Elephants are at times just plain rude.  These poor Forest Buffalo were simply minding their own business when this Forest Elephant decided they had to leave....NOW!

***

Run!

***

 

While never present in large numbers, Sitatunga were constant visitors at Dzanga Bai.

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What I believe to be a Cyclops Roundleaf Bat  (Hipposideros cyclops)residing in a hollowed-out tree near our bungalow at Sangha Lodge.

 ***

Putty-nosed Monkeys were the most widespread primate noted on the trip.  Troops as many as 50-60 were seen near the lodge and at many other locations throughout the forest.

 ***

Sadly bushmeat was available everywhere along the entire journey from Bangui to Dzanga-Ndoki.  This poor Long-tailed Pangolin was seen on the vending platform in front of hut along the road to Boda.

 ***

These de-qwilled and burned Brush-tailed Porcupines were for sale along the road outside Dzanga-Ndoki.

***

This was the only African Palm Civet seen during our stay in the region.  Too bad it was dead.

 

***

Hartlaub's Ducks were everywhere and were a nice lifer for us.

***

Crested Guineafowl were pretty much omnipresent along the roads of Dzanga, especially along the mud track to Bai Hoku.

***

Of course there were loads of Hammerkops...

***

There is nothing quite like the sound of a giant hornbill, like this glorious White-thighed Hornbill, beating its wings through the forest openings.

***

White-thighed Hornbill coming in for a landing...

***

We had a resident Woodland Kingfisher along side of us during our stays at Dzanga Bai.

***

We only caught one glimpse of a Great Blue Turaco.

***

Palm Nut Vultures were very common in and around the bais of Dzanga-Ndoki.

***

Vieillot's Black Weavers were common around villages like Bayanga.

***

Yellow-throated Greenbuls (Chlorocichla flavicollis) were another common forest bird.

 ***

Mammal List RCA 2012

  1. Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis?)*     74+58+5+3 = 140
  2. Forest Buffalo (Syncerus cafer nanus)*     26+16 = 42
  3. Sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekei)*      5+3+2 = 10
  4. Bongo (Tragelaphus euryceros)*    39
  5. Putty-nosed Monkey (Cercopithecus nictitans)*     13+25 = 38
  6. Agile Mangabey (Cercocebus agilis)*     240
  7. Water Chevrotain (Hyemoschus aquaticus)*      1
  8. Blue Duiker (Cephalophus monticola)*    3
  9. Peter’s Duiker (Cephalophus callipygus)*      2
  10. Straw-colored Fruit bat (Eidolon helvum)*     10
  11. Commerson’s (?) Leaf-nosed Bat (Hipposederos cyclops*      5
  12. Hildebrandt’s Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus hildebrandti)*  8+
  13. African Giant Squirrel (Protoxerus stangeri)*  5
  14. Red-cheeked Rope Squirrel (Funisciurus leucogenys)*  3
  15. Fire-footed Rope Squirrel (Funisciurus pyrropus)*  1
  16. Red-legged Sun Squirrel (Heliosiurus rufobrachium)*  10
  17. Lady Burton’s Rope Squirrel (Funisciurus isabella)*    2
  18. Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)*  9
  19. Grey-cheeked Mangabey (Lophocebus albigena)*  10
  20. Long-snouted Mongoose (Herpestes naso)*     1
  21. Lord Derby’s Anomalure (Anomalurus derbianus)*      1
  22. Demidoff’s Galago (Galagoides demidoff)*     1
  23. Elegant Needle-clawed Galago (Euoticus elegantulus)*     1
  24. Tree Pangolin (Phataginus tricuspus)*   1
  25. Giant Forest Hog (?) (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni)  1
  26. Noak's Roundleaf Bat (Hipposideros rubber)  50+
  27. Edward’s Potto (Perodicticus potto edwardsi)*    2
  28. Gambian Giant Pouched Rat (Cricetomys gambianus)*   1
  29. Thomas’s Galago (Galagoides thomasi)*  2
  30. Angola Fruit Bat (Lissonycteris angolensis)*    1
  31. Singing Fruit Bat (Epomops franqueti)* 1
  32. Singing Fruit Bat (Epomops franqueti)* 1
  33. African Sheath-tailed Bat (Coleura afra)*   1
  34. Target Rat (Stochymys longicaudatus)*  2
  35. Long-footed Rat (Malacomys lukolelae)*  1
  36. Soft-furred Mouse (Praomys miosnnei or P. petteri.)* 1
  37. African Wood Mouse (Hylomyscus alleni or H. walterverheyni)* 1


!!!36 lifers!!!







 ***

Click here for a complete species list for the 2012 Africa Expedition


***

Sign, Near Misses, Captive, Bush Meat…

  1. Brush-tailed Porcupine (Atherurus africanus) – bush meat
  2. Long-tailed Pangolin (Uromanis tetradactyla) - bush meat
  3. African Palm Civet (Nandinia binotata) – bush meat
  4. Western Tree Hyrax (Dendrohyrax dorsalis) – voice nightly and common!
  5. De Brazza’s Monkey (Cercopithecus neglectus) – wild offspring of poached adults seen in Bayanga Village
  6. Striped (White-naped) Weasel  (Poecilogale albinucha)  Dead on a fencepost on road to Boda
  7. Mystery Monkeys – Day 6 morning hike – could be De Brazza’s or Moustached…

 

Bird List RCA 2012

  1. Grey Heron
  2. Little Egret
  3. Cattle Egret
  4. Great Egret
  5. Scuacco Heron
  6. African Sacred Ibis
  7. Glossy Ibis
  8. Hadeda Ibis (Bostrychia carunculata)
  9. Hartlaub’s Duck (Pteronetta hartlaubii)*
  10. Woolly-necked Stork
  11. Palm-nut Vulture (Gypohierax angolensis)*
  12. Yellow-billed Kite
  13. African Crowned Eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus)*
  14. African Harrier Hawk
  15. Crested Guineafowl
  16. Nkulengu Rail (Himantornis haematopus)*
  17. Black Crake
  18. Laughing (Palm) Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis)*
  19. African Green Pigeon (Treron calvus)
  20. Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus)*
  21. Great Blue Turaco (Corythaeola cristata)*
  22. Common (Eurasian) Cuckoo
  23. Fraser's Eagle Owl (Bubo poensis)*
  24. Rufous-cheeked Nightjar (Caprimulgus ruficollis)*
  25. Mottled Spinetail (Telacanthura ussheri)*
  26. African Palm Swift (Cypsiurus parvus)
  27. Common Swift
  28. Grey-headed Kingfisher (Halcyon leucocephala)*
  29. Giant Kingfisher
  30. Broad-billed Roller (Eurystomus glaucurus)*
  31. Blue-throated Roller
  32. Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill (Bycanistes subcylindricus)*
  33. Black-casqued Wattled Hornbill (Ceratogymna atrata)*
  34. African Pied Hornbill (Tockus fasciatus)
  35. European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)
  36. White-thighed Hornbill (Bycanistes albotibialis)*
  37. Black-casqued Wattled Hornbill (Ceratogymna atrata)*
  38. Piping (White-tailed) Hornbill (Bycanistes fistulator)
  39. Yellow-crested (Golden Crowned) Woodpecker (Dendropicos xantholophus)*
  40. Rufous-sided Broadbill (Smithornis rufolateralis)*
  41. Square-tailed Saw-wing (Psalidoprocne nitens)*
  42. Barn Swallow
  43. Common House Martin
  44. Red-tailed Rufous Thrush (Ant Thrush) (Neocossyphus rufus)*
  45. African Pied Wagtail (Motacilla aguimp)*
  46. Pied Crow
  47. Black-eyed or Dark Capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus tricolor)*
  48. Yellow-throated Leaf-love (Greenbul) (Chlorocichla flavicollis)*
  49. Little Grey Greenbul (Andropadus ansorgei)*
  50. Red-tailed Greenbul (Criniger calurus)*
  51. Eastern Bearded Greenbul (Criniger chloronotus)*
  52. Splendid Glossy Starling (Lamprotornis splendidus)*
  53. Yellow-billed Oxpecker
  54. Little Green Sunbird (Anthreptes seimundi)*
  55. Green-throated Sunbird (Chalcomitra rubescens)*
  56. Green-headed Sunbird (Cyanomitra verticalis)*
  57. Superb Sunbird (Cinnyris superbus)
  58. Tiny Sunbird (Cinnyris minullus)
  59. Olive Sunbird (Cyanomitra olivacea)
  60. Red-bellied Paradise-flycatcher (Terpsiphone rufiventer)
  61. Familiar Chat
  62. Eurasian Reed Warbler
  63. Orange Weaver (Plocerus aurantius)*
  64. Village (Spotted-backed) Weaver (Plocerus cucullatus)*
  65. Vieillot’s Black Weaver (Ploceus nigerrimus)*

 32 Lifers!

No doubt triple this number of bird species were seen on this trip but my very poor ID skills and a lack of good views (it’s a frickin’ rainforest after all!) and literature made this list deceptively small…Trust me, there are GOBS of birds around every corner in the entire region!

More Stuff!

 

Bangui is situated on the banks of the Ubangi River. Som and Cokie are getting as close to the Democratic Republic of Congo as possible this day as the waters are high with the onset of the rainy season.

***

University students at one of Bangui's many schools celebrating their test scores.  It would appear that they passed...

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The local liquor store...I love their "impulse products".  Refrigerators, freezers, washers-dryers....stereos...Or maybe the booze in the backgroud is actually the impulse product...

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Passing through the suburbs in the outskirts of Bangui.

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A stop at Christian's home in Bayanga village to meet is family was a special event.

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Christian's daughter was spectacular...as was her hair!

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Our lovely Bangui guide, Evlyne.

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Maniok was for sale everywhere along the road to Dzanga-Ndoki...At least this vending stand didn't have more bushmeat for sale!

***

Stopping for even a simple pee-break on the road to Sangha Lodge drew crowds.  But the kids are always great fun and they love seeing their pictures...

***

It seems now that everywhere the Smith family goes, our mascot, "Toby", tags along. Always the conversation starter, in Bayanga village he actually terrified more than fascinated the Ba'aka Pygmies...

***

Cokie "likes big butts and he cannot lie...."  The crowded off-loading of our plane in Douala, Cameroon.

***

You never knew what you were going to encounter in the forests of Dzanga-Ndoki.  These giant basidiocarps were spectacular.

***

Gras and his marrying-age daughter...

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No matter where we went, we soon drew a crowd...

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Bongo skull found deep in the forests of Dzanga-Ndoki

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The forests were dense and filled with wildlife.

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The hand ferry to shuttle yourselves to and from Sangha Lodge.  Cokie absolutely LOVED this contraption!  If he wasn't around, odds were he was here playing on the ferry....

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Our bungalow at Sangha Lodge

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Life is simply not complete in Africa without "Pili Pili"!

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Cokie no doubt contemplating his next adventure....

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Sangha Lodge's dining area - a great place to sit and talk to other travelers about the species du jour!

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Life on the Sangha River is peaceful.

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Late afternoon along the Sangha River from the deck of Sangha Lodge.

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 Farewell Sangha...Until next time!

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Check out some more images of Dzanga-Ndoki National Park!

Gorillas of Dzanga-Ndoki

Mammals of Dzanga-Ndoki

Birds of Dzanga-Ndoki

People & Places of Central Africa

Forest Elephants of Dzanga Bai

The Ba'aka Pygmy People