Moonlit and clear starry nights, the camp fire is extinguished as playful forest elephants come to life.
"The reflection of the moonlight from their tusks and the splashing water as they play, cool themselves or blow minerals up to the surface is truly incredible to see."
Ngaga Camp, Ndzehi Concession – December 2014
The marantaceae forest is a display of bright colours: purple, yellow, red and white flowers of various shapes. Some are starting to bloom while others are slowly fading away and with the help of gentle breeze, falling to the forest floor. The African honey bee, the sweat bee, and many different fly species are all attracted in impressive numbers, playing an important role in helping pollinate the flowers of the silent giants. Our trails network, which resembles a huge spider web all around Ngaga Camp, is being cleared at the moment, allowing us a bit more clarity when trying to spot birds or monkeys in the dense foliage of 20 to 40 metre tall trees.
The monkey sightings have been great recently: mainly mixed troops of moustached, crowned and putty-nosed monkeys, most of these troops being fairly large with numbers of twenty or more. Walking up and down the Ngaga Stream in search of northern talapoin monkeys proved to be a particularly interesting expedition. One of the smallest monkeys found in Africa, they are very shy, move in troops of 12-20 individuals and are very good swimmers. We were lucky enough to see them to the south of the camp. This river walk also revealed many tracks and signs of both red river and giant forest hogs which had clearly been crossing the stream at certain points.
The two habituated groups of gorillas are found most often lately on the eastern side of the Concession. As not many trees are fruiting at the moment, this explains their gravitating towards the very few that are fruiting, such as the Ekoma (Kleinedoxa gabonensis) – beautiful tall trees with tasty fruits. Gorillas, chimpanzees, and even hogs feed on the remaining seeds once the fruits have passed through the digestive system of elephants.
The frequent gorilla activity around those trees results in their clearing the marantaceae at the base of the trees, in turn allowing us better visibility to view them in their environment. Birding in and around the camp is always exciting as we come across surprises regularly. Some of the birds at which we had a good look included crested malimbe, chestnut- winged starling, blue-throated brown sunbird, Fraser’s sunbird, chestnut wattle-eye, chestnut-capped flycatcher, honeyguide greenbul, yellow-spotted barbet and many more.
Lango Camp, Odzala-Kokoua National Park
Returning from a bai walk as the sun sets right behind Lango, you can be easily startled by the sound of huge flocks of green pigeons flying over the camp – especially if you are not used to forest sounds. At our feet, flitting through the clear water between vivid green aquatic plants are 5 to 10 cm long fish skimming on the surface of the water to look for flies or dive deep escape from predators as we walk by. Closer to camp, we see a herd a buffalo slowly grazing their way into the forest.
As the sun gracefully disappears behind Lango Camp, we arrive back from our travels, and the first thing handed to us is a cold towel, and a big colder beer. The pinkish colouration of the sky left by the sunset is a spectacle over the bai, as we drop our bags, gather around a heart-warming fire, and enjoy the first sips of our drinks in silence. All of sudden, crossing the bai right in front of us, are red river hogs! A passel (the correct collective noun for hogs) of more than forty individuals all run in single file and at a constant speed; they seemed determined to get to the forest block to the east of Camp before dark. The show only lasted few minutes, but they were moments of pure excitement.
Knowing that the moon would be full and up the whole night, after a great dinner, unlike the other safari destinations where you would invite guests to the fire, here in the Congo we extinguish the fire and all the lights in the main area of the Camp and set up chairs overlooking the bai before asking the guests to wait with us in complete silence. The wait is not long at all for as soon as the lights are extinguished, we start to hear splashing in the water – the sound of forest elephant making their way to where the minerals are the most concentrated.
At a distance we hear the rumbles in the jungle as the elephants communicate amongst each other. It is truly magical when the pachyderms walk, then rush into the bai one after the other to enjoy the mineral wealth of the soil. The reflection of the moonlight from their tusks and the splashing water as they play, cool themselves or blow minerals up to the surface is truly incredible to see.
When clouds are few and nights are clear, the view can sometimes be as good with bare eyes as with binoculars. The spectacle has been known to last the whole night until the sun rises. Guests that wake up early have a good chance of seeing the elephants while having a cup of tea or coffee on the deck of their rooms first thing in the morning. The hogs and forest elephants were regular visitors of Lango this month and they surely had most of our attention. The monkeys also were fun to see, with grey-cheeked mangabey, putty-nosed and crowned monkey all passing through the Camp on occasion. Marsh mongoose could be seen wandering below our walkways at any time of the day.
The biggest surprise under our walkway however was a very clear and well-defined track of a male leopard exploring the camp; we had previously also seen tracks of leopard in the bai. What is interesting is that while this is the first time that we have seen these tracks in Camp, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this cat was visiting for the first time. Beneath the camp, the terrain is very marshy which can make tracks and signs hard to read.
The main birding activity this month has definitely been the grey parrots. We are still earning when their preferred times to come down to the salt licks in front of Camp are. Certainly they do not come down when the licks are flooded, but even when they are very dry it does not always attract them so there are perhaps other factors at play that we have overlooked. Yet another Congo mystery for us to try and solve!-