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Searching for mammals in the Dzanga-Sangha Rainforest, CAR (July 2015)


Anomalure
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**I'll just start off by saying that this is my first post on this forum, so please forgive any mistakes I may make in formatting, etc. as I'm just now getting used to the site... :)

 

Pre-trip:

 

For the last few years, a visit to the rainforests of the Congo Basin in search of Lowland Gorillas, Bongos, Forest Elephants, and the rest of the region’s unique and little-known fauna has been something of a pipedream for me. Since 2011, I had my heart set on Dzanga-Sangha in the Southwest CAR, but after the coup and resulting war in 2013-14, I was certain a visit here was not possible. However, these events also coincided with the opening of Wilderness Safaris’ Odzala Camps in Odzala-Kokoua NP in Congo.

 

That said, I was a little unsure about how wildlife viewing would be in Odzala, especially for the larger species (ie: Bongo, Red River Hog, etc.), given what I had heard about the poaching issues present in the park. At the time though, this was but a minor problem as Odzala seemed to be the only realistic option.

 

After not receiving a reply from Wilderness 2 weeks after the inquiry, I sent another inquiry and received a more prompt reply from a local SF-based travel agent informing me that Wilderness had ended their contract in Odzala with the Congo Conservation Company and were closing their camps. I had my heart set on Central Africa however and so began pursuing alternatives such as Gabon, CAR, and Cameroon. After talking to a few people working in Central Africa, two things became clear however: 1) Dzanga-Sangha in CAR is by far the best place to see the Congo basin’s unique mammal fauna; and 2) that the park is now open for visitors (thanks Joel Gunter for your report, which basically sealed the deal for me to go!). After corresponding with Rod Cassidy, I reshuffled my trip dates a few times to match charter flight availability from Yaounde (the best option to get to the park) and scheduled my trip for 7 nights in the 2nd half of July (7/16-7/23 at the lodge).

 

Visas, etc.:

 

Since I had planned my trip to Sangha rather late (I was really doing the bulk of the planning around March/April!), my one main worry was obtaining the visas to CAR and Cameroon in time. Surprisingly, Cameroon and not CAR ended up being the main issue here. In the US, you have to mail your passport and paperwork to the Cameroon embassy in DC, then wait 10 days for them to process it. The timings worked out in the end, but I ran into a different problem as the consul in charge of my visa marked single-entry rather than multiple-entry despite the fact that I had filled my forms out correctly and he refused to fix his error (in spite of a fair bit of "beseeching" from my travel agent)! This forced us to figure out the re-entry visas on return to Cameroon, which caused a bit of stress during the trip.

 

Regarding the CAR visas, Rod handled them very well with some local officials he knows in Bayanga. Make sure Rod takes care of this since (according to him) there are some sleazebag customs agents there as well as the more competent, straightforward ones.

 

Safety:

 

Most governments have "blanket" travel warnings for CAR, which include the Dzanga-Sangha area. That said, this region (Sangha-Mbaere) is safe and has been free of anti-balaka, Seleka, etc. for well over a year now. It is very peaceful, beautiful, and a world away from the troubles of N CAR and TOTALLY SAFE to visit. That said, insurance issues can be problematic so be sure to book with an operator (which should work directly with Rod in planning) used to travel in regions like this, so they can take care of insurance, etc.

 

In summary, the Sangha region (at least to me) felt totally safe and now is the time to visit. The park and local businesses (Sangha Lodge) need support for the valuable work they're doing and tourism dollars are essential to get the reserve back to relative normality (or at least what it had before the coup).

 

When to go:

 

If game viewing is your priority, Jan-early April is best. Lots of elephants at Dzanga bai (up to 150 in a day) and a very good chance for Bongo (Rod reckoned you can see them 1 in 2 visits to the bai at this time of year). Reasonable chances for hogs (1 in 4 visits to bai) and the best time of year to see Forest Buffalo, Sitatunga, and Forest Duikers on the walks at Bai Hokou. I'm hoping to return at this time of year sometime in the future.

 

Other times of the year (May-Nov) can basically be considered the 'wet season.' That said, the period around Jul-early August is generally a drier period within the rainy season (when I went) and I got relatively little rain, at least much less than I was expecting. Wildlife is tougher at this time of the year (especially bongo, which get quite rare and disappear from Dzanga bai for long periods of time), but the conditions are beautiful and air clear. Also very little harmattan at this time of the year, but strangely enough, there was a decent bit of it on the very clear day that I arrived on (July 16th).

 

The heart of the rainy season is late August-October, but there are sufficient periods without rain to permit tourism. You get a lot of fruiting trees around this time of the year, so Gorillas will move less (there was already a lot of fruit around when I was there!) and this is also breeding season for Picathartes, the time of the year when sightings are most reliable.

 

Getting to Sangha:

 

This is probably the biggest obstacle to overcome when travelling to Sangha. There are 3 main ways to go to Dzanga-Sangha, which can basically be split up into 2 categories: driving and flying.

 

Driving:

 

Drive from Yaounde, Cameroon to Bayanga, CAR. This will take you a minimum 19 hours driving without stops (more in the rainy season). Generally, Rod recommends you break this up into 3 days, with the following schedule: Day 1 - drive ~6 h to Bertoua, spend the night there; Day 2 - drive ~7 h to Yokadouma, spend the night there; Day 3 - drive ~5 h to Libongo, take the ferry across the Sangha, and drive to Bayanga and onto Sangha Lodge.

 

Flying:

 

Fly from Bangui (now a realistic option apparently). The airport will probably still be chaotic, but there are planes that you can charter for a ~1.5 hour flight to Sangha. I don't know too much regarding logistics as we never looked into this.

 

Fly from Yaounde (probably the best option). Most flights are organized through the missionary organization SIL. We had Daryl Young as our pilot, and he was competent, efficient, and well-accustomed to airport bureaucracy. He also pulled us out of trouble on our last day (arguably caused by him though since he got to Bayanga at 3 PM, instead of 1 PM or so, which was what he had initially indicated, but delays are a part of life out here in CAR). The downside is that this option will cost you a lot, especially if you charter it yourself; a better option may be to organize dates with Rod so you can match your trip dates with other people's, allowing you to share the costs of a charter flight.

 

The charter flight from Yaounde however is somewhat difficult to schedule and I found that we had to build our trip around it since the organization that does the flights, SIL, works primarily for missionaries and tourism flights to Bayanga are definitely lower on the priority list for them (this was very clear on our last day). So when you're planning your trip, expect the dates to change around a little bit.

 

Once you get there, Rod will drive you to Sangha Lodge.

 

Sangha Lodge:

 

Sangha Lodge is set in probably the most stunning location for any lodge I have ever seen. The view over the river, surrounded by tropical rainforest, is just mesmerizing and I often found myself sitting on the deck, staring at the view.

 

More importantly, the lodge grounds are great for mammals (and also birds, if you are so inclined; Rod has seen Grant's Bluebill from his bedroom!) and the rooms are located right at the forest edge. Rod has maintained a series of trails around the lodge that are great for mammals and his camera traps have found a mouth-watering range of species including Servaline Genet, Red River Hog, Yellow-backed Duiker, Brush-tailed Porcupine, Emin’s Giant Rat, Flat-headed Cusimanse, Long-nosed Mongoose, Agile Mangabey, Ribboned Rope Squirrel, Link Rat, etc. At night, you can often hear galagos and fruit bats calling around the lodge too. That said, most of these are very difficult to see, and if you hike the trails, you're more likely to find Putty-nosed, Moustached, and Crowned Guenons; Red-cheeked, Ribboned, and Lady Burton's Rope Squirrels; Red-legged Sun Squirrel; African Giant Squirrel; Blue Duiker; and if you're lucky, De Brazza's Monkey (around the swamp forest) during the day. At night, you can often observe 3 different species of galagos (Demidoff's, Thomas's, and Elegant Needle-clawed), Potto, Fruit Bats (including Hammer-headed Fruit Bat), and African Palm Civet and hear the loud calls of Western Tree Hyrax.

 

For those keen mammal enthusiasts out there, there's also a tree in front of Cabin 7 that's home to a Lord Derby's Anomalure. Check in the early mornings, when you can often seen it sunning or poking its head out of its cavity home.

 

Of course, if you're like me, the pets at Sangha are also a highlight. I had a great time observing Rod and Tam's pet pangolins Pangi (a gorgeous Black-bellied Pangolin) and Oko (a White-bellied Pangolin), and the two cute Blue Duikers Baby and Bokkie.

 

Sangha Lodge, although relatively rustic and basic compared to most offerings in E and S Africa, is nonetheless a great base for activities in the park. It’s clean, safe, and serves up good food (the vegetarian food was quite good, given the circumstances) and drinks. The standard of food they provide is very impressive, given that the ingredients for most meals come in as shipments on planes from Yaounde! The service is attentive and there's hot water and electricity for a few hours every day. Rod and Tam are some of the most hospitable hosts you’ll ever find and they could not do enough to help me find more mammals and make sure I felt comfortable and happy with my trip to Sangha.

 

Rod also organizes a number of excursions directly through the lodge on his concession land (which by the way is larger than the national park!). These include a trip to a pristine waterfall to look for Picathartes and if you're lucky, Brush-tailed Porcupine and Lord Derby's Anomalure; birding along the entrance road; boat trips up the Yobe River; and other Ba'Aka community activities.

 

To learn more about the lodge, check out http://www.sanghalodge.com.

 

Park overview:

 

Within Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, there are 5 main wildlife viewing areas. I'll provide a brief description of each below.

 

Dzanga Bai:

 

This is what many consider to be the main attraction in Dzanga-Sangha Park, and rightly so. Seeing dozens (in the right season, over 100) Forest Elephants meet and mingle, then disappear back into the green curtain of forest, is one of the most unique and incredible experiences possible to have anywhere in the world. At the right time of the year and/or with a little luck, you also have a good chance of seeing Forest Buffalo, Bongo, Red River and Giant Forest Hogs, and Black-and-white Colobus. In the mornings around 9 AM, a huge flock of African Gray Parrots can be seen coursing through the bai, a truly majestic sight. Generally, you'll arrive around 9 or 10, and stay till 4 PM, at which point the guides want to leave to minimize the chance of running into a territorial Forest Elephant bull that often frequents the stream area.

 

Hiking the trail to the bai is also a wonderful experience, and wading through the clear knee-deep stream along the way, watching to the hornbills fly overhead, it's hard to imagine a place more relaxing and pristine. The trail is also good for wildlife viewing, and I heard monkeys often (and sometimes saw them too!).

 

Bai Hokou:

 

A very remote site at the end of a terrible road (which if you keep your eyes open, can yield wildlife sightings), deep within the forests of the national park. About a 2 hour drive from the park HQ at Bayanga, this is the main area for Gorilla trekking, with the famous Makumba group (which has now dwindled to 4 in number, as Makumba is aging). There's also a habituated group of about 200 Agile Mangabeys, the largest group of this species thought to exist.

 

The bai walk is also a unique attraction and underrated. It's an amazing experience to walk through the bais, examining the tracks of Bongo, Leopard, Red River Hog, Congo Clawless Otter, and of course, Forest Elephant and Forest Buffalo. This is the best way to see Sitatunga, Forest Duikers, and nearly all the diurnal Monkeys, and you can occasionally see Gorillas or Mangabeys out in the bais too. In the dry season, this is a good place to get Elephant and Buffalo encounters on foot, if you are interested.

 

Mongambe:

 

The second, more recently developed Gorilla-trekking location in the park. This group is led by the silverback Mayele and has 12 members, but they tend to stick to heavy Marantaceae, or similar vegetation, and generally don't give as good views as the Makuma group. Also, this area is entirely forested, so there's no chance of seeing gorillas out in the bais, like in Bai Hokou.

 

The wildlife is less habituated here, but you can still see plenty of monkeys, and if you're lucky, Bay Duiker.

 

Sangha Lodge:

 

I guess I gave enough of a description above for this site. Go there!

 

Doli Lodge:

 

This was an area I never looked for mammals in. From talking to Christian (my national park guide), I got the impression that it is a good place to see African Giant Squirrel and also there is the possibility of Hippo and even Chimpanzee across the river from the lodge, though sightings of these are occasional. De Brazza’s Monkey, which used to be a possibility here, is now almost impossible to see around Bayanga due to poaching pressure. They are very quiet, elusive, observant monkeys capable of staying still for hours at a time. For anyone looking, it's better to try the swamp forest near Sangha Lodge, where they can be heard calling in the early mornings and located from there (one was heard the morning before I arrived, but sadly never called during my trip!).

 

There is also a site nearby where Christian talked about observing ‘Allen’s Swamp Monkeys,’ which confuse me as this species doesn’t occur in CAR (closest is islands on the Sangha around Bomassa). That said, his description of size and habits looked good, and I wish I had time to check out the site (swamp forest close to the Sangha not far from Doli Lodge). There are some publications that suggest the presence of this species in SW CAR (there is a local name for it, simbi, which is used for Allen's Swamp Monkey and Talapoin in other areas), and it does occur on Bomassa Island at the CAR-Congo border.

 

I'll give the day-by-day account of my sightings and experiences soon...

Edited by Anomalure
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Alexander33

@@Anomalure

 

Congratulations on your first post. And what a post it is. Looking forward to hearing more about such a relatively remote destination. Welcome!

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Welcome to the forums. This promises to be an incredibly comprehensive thread. Looking forward to some more. :)

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Before I get to the day-by-day, I first wanted to give an idea of how wildlife viewing is conducted in the African rainforest and some of the many activities you can take...

 

In Dzanga-Sangha, unlike the traditional safari locales of East and Southern Africa, the concept of a game drive doesn't really exist. Yes, you will see the occasional Monkey, Squirrel, or if you're lucky Duiker, from the road, but generally, most wildlife viewing is done on foot on trails.

 

This trip was my first time in the African rainforest and I loved the experience of using my ears as much as my eyes to find and observe some of the seemingly elusive animals of the rainforest. At first, I found it easy to start to get discouraged about the prospects of observing a large diversity of animals in this environment, but after a few days, it all started to come together as I began recognizing distinct calls from the seemingly ever-present background noise, such as the distinctive "PYOW!" of the Putty-nosed Monkey or screeches and grunts of the Gray-cheeked Mangabey.

 

I'll give a short overview of some of the activities on offer:

 

Dzanga Bai visits - I guess I've already given an idea on this; you sit on a raised platform about 15 ft off the ground. From here, you get a great vantage point over most of the bai and can scan the fringes for more elusive species, if you want. Here, you also get the opportunity to meet the world-renowned Forest Elephant researcher Andrea Turkalo, who has been cataloguing individuals and studying elephant behavior at the bai for almost 30 years.

 

Gorilla trekking - there are two main groups currently habituated, Makumba at Bai Hokou and Mayele at Mongambe; Makumba is the group that has been habituated longer and so is more used to people, so most tourists are taken to his group. These treks are fast-paced walks over gently undulating ground. When you get near the Gorillas, you often have to go through very dense, often thorny vegetation (which the gorillas prefer) filled with sweat bees that like to get into your orbital cavities (so a bug net is really necessary!). On average, it takes about 1-1.5 hours to get to the gorillas and the sighting rate is about 90-95% per trek. Schedule these ahead of time as they can get booked (they only allow 2 groups of 3 tourists/day to the gorillas). There are 2 more groups that almost habituated for tourists; these should be available in the next couple of years.

 

Mangabey trekking - organized similarly to gorilla trekking, but a bit more chaotic in my experience; generally a similar distance from camp as the gorillas and the walks are very much the same in structure. The troop is about 200 animals, but they often split. In any event, it's highly unlikely you'll get to see the full 200 even if they are together unless the go into a bai; they usually hang out in dense vegetation.

 

Bai walks - a 4-6 km walk around 5 or so bais near Bai Hokou; in the bais themselves there are good chances of Forest Buffalo and Elephant and in the forest surrounding the bais, you can frequently see Blue, Peters', Bay, and Black-fronted Duikers; Red-cheeked and Fire-footed Rope Squirrels; Guereza Colobus, Crowned Guenon; Putty-nosed and Moustached Monkeys; Gray-cheeked Mangabey; and if you're lucky, Red River Hog.

 

Community-oriented activities: Sadly, I never had time to do any of these but would love to go net hunting with the Ba'Aka next time; you can also collect palm wine, medicinal plants, and participate in Ba'Aka dance/music ceremonies which would be a unique and incredible experience.

 

Aside from these, there are a number of activities at Sangha Lodge which I mentioned earlier.

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SafariChick

@@Anomalure hello and welcome to Safaritalk! What a great first post, I agree. I am also in the SF Bay Area so it's great to see another local here :-) I hope to visit Sangha Lodge some day so this is a really helpful and fascinating report! Looking forward to more.

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Day-by-day journal:

 

Day 1:

 

We left Yaounde (a much nicer, compact, more developed city than I thought it would be) from the military airport at around 7 AM in a SIL 6-seater Cessna with Daryl. After taking care of passport formalities at Nsimalen International Airport, we flew about 2.5 hours to Bayanga Airstrip, arriving there at 10 AM. Rod took care of some formalities for entry into the CAR there and had us hand our passports over to the local officials (who Rod was closely monitoring over the next few days!) and a little while after drove us and our vegetarian meals (many of the ingredients of which came on the plane!) to Sangha Lodge.

 

The drive to the lodge goes South from Bayanga through a Ba'Aka pygmy village called Mossapoula, then you turn onto the lodge's 3 km entrance road. The road is pretty rough and bumpy however (often times, we had to take a guy with a chainsaw, who would clear large trees knocked down by elephants!) so this will take you 15 minutes or so. At the end, you take a lovely barge/moving platform (human-operated) across the serene Babongo River to the steps of the lodge.

 

After dropping our stuff in our room, we spent most of our time sitting in the bar chatting with Rod and Tam over lunch. There is a truly stunning view of the river, surrounded by a curtain of verdant jungle, which again I can't really speak highly enough. Also, there's a fan here which helped us get accustomed to the heat and humidity of the rainforest.

 

At around 4 PM, Rod took me on a brief walk over the trails just to get accustomed with the main wildlife viewing routes. We heard Great Blue Turacos and a Putty-nosed Monkey, but didn't see anything on our brief walk. Before dinner, Rod brought out one of his Pangolin orphans, Oko, a baby White-bellied Pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis). Like most people, I'd never seen a pangolin before, so just watched him - a truly beautiful animal - move about the lounge area. After watching a large Goliath Tigerfish splash out of the water, we had dinner as the Western Tree Hyraxes began to call. Sleep was a little tough that night as I was just getting used to all the sounds of the rainforest; just a word on the Western Tree Hyrax - these strange have calls that sound rather like someone getting strangled or attacked; they are also extremely loud to the point where they sound nearby even when they are calling from across the river. So be patient as they will take a day or two to get used to! :D

 

Day 2:

 

After a leisurely breakfast, we started off on the drive to Dzanga Bai. After picking up Christian, our guide, at the Tourism center and our Ba'Aka tracker Mose (a tracker currently being trained; normally, we would have gotten Gras), we drove the 1 hour road through the national park to the trailhead for Dzanga bai. I kept my eyes open for mammals, but only saw 1 Crested Guineafowl fly off the road.

 

The trail to the bai was relatively quiet in terms of wildlife activity, but crossing the stream was a unique experience (as was getting my shoes covered in mud just after crossing the stream! :wacko: ) and after a 40 minute walk through the forest, we arrived at the mirador for the bai. It's an amazing sight, as you walk up the steps and watch the Forest Elephants and Buffalo interacting in the bai, listening to the trumpeting in the background.

 

Unfortunately, Andrea didn't meet us at the bai today, but we had talked to her briefly when we crossed paths on the entrance road. She said that elephant numbers generally peaked after 1 in the afternoon, so we tried to stay as late as possible. While there had not been very many Bongo sightings recently, she had seen Giant Forest Hogs several times, with her last sighting the previous afternoon, so I was hopeful of encountering one of these impressively large pigs sometime during my stay.

 

Overall, in the afternoon numbers peaked at around 40 Elephants in the bai and just before we left, the resident herd of about 15 Buffalo also exited their mudpit and began grazing in the meadows on the fringe of the bai. Over the course of the day, we also saw a few African Gray Parrots, Palmnut Vultures, Hammerkop, and Hartlaub's Ducks.

 

On our way back, after hearing a Guereza Colobus call distantly, we heard Mangabeys calling and finally spotted the group of Gray-cheeked Mangabeys jumping through the canopy. They were trailed by 1-2 of the much smaller, silent, yellow-colored Crowned Guenons which I got a brief view of in my binoculars.

 

Back at the lodge, I was delighted to find that Rod had found a White-bellied Pangolin, processed, and released it into the forest that afternoon. Even better, he had a Ba'Aka tracker sit with it for a little while until we got back from the bai. As we arrived at the lodge, we headed up the trail and got good looks at the animal curled up, sleeping in a hollow log. My first wild Pangolin (even if I cheated a little to see it...) and an amazing sighting.

 

That evening, I took a night walk with Rod, hoping to score some sightings of elusive nocturnal species. Unfortunately, it was a relatively quiet night, so we only got views of a Bosman's Potto curled up in dense vine thicket (I was hoping it might be an Angwantibo, but Rod dashed my hopes :) ). Afterwards, we got brief views of a few small bats flapping around that were probably one of the Nycteris species, maybe Nycteris hispida, the Hairy Slit-faced Bat. Afterwards, we headed back to the cabin for some sleep, drifting away to the hyraxes and insects.

 

Day 3:

 

Rod had decided that we should head out in search of Western Lowland Gorillas today, so an early rise was required. While Rod was checking the hot water tank that morning (at around 5:30 AM), he spotted the Anomalure. He then knocked on my door and told me to grab my spotlight and binoculars as the Anomalure was out. I had just woken up so was still in pajamas and flip-flops, but ran out of the room, fearing this unusual and rarely seen squirrel might disappear into its hole. I must have looked ridiculous, but didn't care - I was watching a Lord Derby's Anomalure! This species is a truly impressive flying squirrel, with soft dark gray fur and a black bushy tail, much larger than the flying squirrels I've seen in California. At breakfast, I got another bonus in the form of 2 little Green Bush Squirrels attracted to the palm nuts placed on the palm tree in front of the deck.

 

The long drive to Bai Hokou was pretty unproductive mammal-wise and the hike out toward the gorillas’ last known location was similarly disappointing. After wandering for about 1.5 hours, it was clear that no one had an exact idea of where the Gorillas were, so they figured it would be best for us to look for them at Mongambe, where they had found the habituated group. I really wish they could have told me about this a little earlier on the walk!

 

That said, it was a beautiful hike through lovely forest, of many different types including mono-dominant Gilbertiodendron forest and traditional mixed forest (with a prominent component of Irvingia, or forest mango), with a few small stream crossings (all were comfortable with a pair of gumboots). On the hike back to Bai Hokou camp, I found tracks of Blue and Peters’ Duiker and Leopard, saw diggings by Red River Hog, and heard Putty-nosed Monkeys calling nearby, but observed no mammals.

 

After a stressful 1.5 hour drive to Mongambe camp, we found that the gorillas had moved a fair distance from their previous location (which seems common for Western Lowland gorillas) and so would be a 1 hour trek from camp. After 1 hour and 40 minutes of hiking, the latter of which was through heavy Marantaceae undergrowth in dense secondary forest, we arrived at the gorillas. Along the way, we saw Gray-cheeked Mangabeys and scat of a Bay Duiker.

 

After we spotted the silverback Mayele, the Western Lowland Gorillas decided to move (as usual...) and we got good views of several of the these animals (the silverback, 2 females, and the newest baby!) move through heavy undergrowth rather more gracefully than we did, crashing through the dense vegetation as we attempted to follow them.

 

After getting to a slightly more open area, the Gorillas decided to sleep, which was interesting for about 15 minutes. At this point, I turned my attention to the monkey calls echoing through the trees, and got good looks at a small troop of Putty-nosed Monkeys, with their brilliant white noses. Soon after, I spotted 2 Moustached Monkeys (which they sometimes call "Red-tailed Monkeys" here, though that species occurs on the other side of the Ubangi) and an Agile Mangabey leaping through the trees with plenty more calling. The anthropologist with us on the trek, Carolyn Robinson, was over the moon with the sighting as she had never seen gorillas interacting with 3 other primate species in this manner (she lived in Bayanga from 2010-2012, and this was her first visit after the coup; she studies human-wildlife interactions, with an emphasis on bushmeat trade and actually gained the trust of many of Bayanga's poachers!).

 

The walk back to camp was largely uneventful, with the exception of a stressful few minutes when we encountered a Forest Elephant mother and young in dense undergrowth, which we could only barely see half the time!

 

Back at camp, I had a snack while watching the creek nearby, where Christian had seen Spotted-necked Otters a couple of times. This never did materialize, nor did the Water Chevrotains, which Christian had seen 4 or 5 times in the evenings on the road near camp. (Not that I was really expecting to see either of these animals though...)

 

We arrived after nightfall back at Sangha Lodge, tired from a long day. After dinner, sleep was easy today.

 

Photos coming soon...

Edited by Anomalure
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Images from day 1:
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My plane from Yaounde
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Over the equatorial rainforest, somewhere between Yaounde and Bayanga

 

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Coming in to land at Bayanga

 

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Orphan Blue Duiker
Edited by Game Warden
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Scenes from Dzanga Bai: (day 2)

 

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Most of these images feature Forest Elephants. Throughout the day, we would see small groups of eles coming out of the forest and into the bai. Generally, we'd see mothers and young - groups of 2-3 animals come in and mingle with other small families, and sometimes lone bulls.
The Forest elephants are distinctly different from their Savanna cousins with rounder ears, and noticeably smaller size and shorter legs.
There was also a small resident herd of Forest Buffalo - distinctly different from the savanna subspecies (caffer, aequinoctialis, and brachyceros, though the latter 2 have some intergrade characteristics) with their much smaller size, fringed ears, and orange-brown coloration.
Sometimes things got heated when Forest elephants chased the poor Buffalo out of their pools. I'll try to add some video sometime in the next couple of days to capture the scene with some audio too.

 

Edited by Game Warden
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Western Lowland Gorillas:

 

My first experience with the Western Lowland Gorillas at Mongambe was primarily visual. The animals were mostly moving through dense thicket, and then rested, so most photographs were exceedingly poor. They were amazing to watch, but you really have to look hard in many of the photos to notice that there's even an gorilla present. As you will see, this was not the case on a later date when we tried Gorilla tracking again at Bai Hokou. I'll provide those pictures soon.

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I keep getting "you do not have permission to view this image" when I attempt to enlarge the photos; anyone else?

They do look in thumbnail version though :)

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@@Marks I think I probably need to change the permission settings in the gallery. Will do after I post this next installment, sorry.

 

Day 4:

 

Today, we decided to rest after the long day yesterday and after a leisurely breakfast, set off by boat to the waterfall. Sadly the palm nuts Rod had placed next to the palm trees at the dining area had not attracted any squirrels today (we thought this was because there were plenty of fruiting trees in the surrounding forest, so squirrels did not need to come out to access fruit).

 

Hiking through the hilly forest filled with dense thickets of lianas, we watched for African Pygmy Squirrel, which Rod sometimes sees in the vines without luck. I suspect this species is extremely difficult to find reliably, due to its tiny size, elusive nature, and preference for dense cover. That said, this didn't really matter to me as the path we were walking, through beautiful rocky, hilly forest with a small, clear forest stream rushing past was just beautiful. The atmosphere of the place, with the Ba'Aka tracker Fidel hacking away at the vines and dense vegetation blocking our path, truly felt like the essense of the heart of Africa.

 

We then stopped by a hollow tree where Rod often sees bats and Lord Derby’s Anomalure. The Anomalure wasn’t home, but Rod spotted 4 of the cool looking Hipposideros gigas at the top of the log. After craning my neck to look up into the cavity while shining a flashlight towards where I thought the bats were (much tougher than it sounds!), I got good looks at these unusual animals. From there, we reached a lovely rocky overhang with a small pool beneath, then hiked up the stream to the beautiful waterfalls, apparently discovered by Rod and his trackers only a few years ago.

 

After admiring the falls, Rod and I then started up the steep path to the cave. While walking into the Picathartes cave, Rod shined his torch into the many crevices and I was shocked to see a large African Brush-tailed Porcupine dash out! Wow! A strange looking animal, rather like a large rat covered in spines with a white, brushy tail.

 

A few minutes later, we got good views of 2 Picathartes oreas (Gray-necked Rockfowl) chicks (found by our tracker Armand; the chicks were only a few days old, still pinkish in color!) and an adult building a nest. On the hike down, we had a close call with a wasp nest, but none of us got stung (that luck would dry up on a later day though!). We then stopped at a small beach on the way back, then rode the boat back down the beautiful river to the lodge.

 

After a lunch of falafels, Rod and I hit the trails near the lodge to look for squirrels. At the forest edge, we heard a squirrel calling and after watching a dense tangle of vines quietly, we saw a Lady Burton’s Rope Squirrel scurry along a thin branch. Soon after, I spotted a Thomas’s Rope Squirrel run up a thin tree along the River trail and a small troop of Putty-nosed Monkeys, tracked down after we heard them calling. Rod then took me through an area of open forest with plentiful termite hills where he sees Ribboned Rope Squirrel, but we weren’t lucky for now; he then dropped me off at a place where he often sees Red-cheeked Rope Squirrel, which I quietly staked out while Rod welcomed the other guests. After Rod returned, I hadn’t seen any squirrels, but he told me had seen a Ribboned Rope Squirrel dash off the trail while hiking back to camp. We returned to the spot, heard it calling, and got brief and poor views of the Ribboned Rope Squirrel shaking its tail in the understory vegetation. As we tried to approach it, the call steadily got louder, but we couldn't locate it in its dense thicket of lianas! Unreasonable! :angry: That night at dinner, there were a few Nycteris arge (Bates’ Slit-faced Bats) flapping around the dining area (a distraction from the great conversation we were having with the other guests, who had just arrived from several days in Nouabale-Ndoki), but heavy rain put a damper on my night walk plans.

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Ok hopefully the photos should work now...

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Day 5:

 

For today, Rod had decided that we would return to Dzanga bai to try to find more elusive species, such as Giant Forest Hogs. He thought that the best chances to see hogs would be in the early morning (we couldn't stay past 4 in the afternoon), so a 6:30 AM departure was planned. At breakfast, I had good looks at few Thomas’s Rope Squirrels, scurrying through the riverside thicket in front of the lodge deck. There was a loud cacophany of screeching, so Rod and Tam thought (based off of what we were seeing) that it must be a mother and young trying to run away from some sort of predator - maybe a mongoose or snake. Along the road to the bai, I saw a what was most likely a Rusty-nosed Rat in the grassy roadway and a Fire-footed Rope Squirrel (with its reddish feet!) jump off into the dense vegetation from the road. On the trail to the bai, a small group of Guereza Colobus foraging in the creekside trees was a nice treat just after we walked out of Dzanga stream.

 

At the bai, there were plenty of Elephants and the same herd of Forest Buffalo, but despite spend the whole day watching, no Hogs! At around 3 PM, I returned to the lodge and set myself up on the deck watching the sunset. (At dinner, we talked to the other guests, who stayed at the bai till 4 PM; they didn't see hogs or bongo either)

 

That evening, I talked to Rod about the Black Hawk bats, a huge insectivorous bat of tropical rainforest clearings, that he often sees over the river. He thought that they might be seasonal, as he sees more of them in the dry season when the river is lower (and so attracts slightly more insects), but they are possible throughout the year. About 20 minutes into dusk, I was shocked to see a Black Hawk Bat (Saccolaimus peli) hawking over the river -- a very impressive species and one of the trip’s best mammals. I spent some time admiring the awesome bat as it glided over the river, and even showed it to the other guests. A really cool bat and the illustration in the Kingdon Field Guide was pretty accurate to me. Sadly, I couldn't get any pictures...

 

That evening, Rod and I headed out on a night walk, the highlight of which was great looks at a beautiful Elegant-needle Clawed Galago, out in the open on a narrow branch. This is truly a lovely species, with a rich fawn colored back contrasting with a pale whitish-gray belly and an intriguing fluffy, white-tipped tail not illustrated in the field guides (also this was the Galago that I most wanted to see, so this was a nice treat). We then tracked down Western Tree Hyrax calls to a point where they were calling about 10-15 feet in the tree above us, but still could really get looks! Rod reckoned this was the closest he had ever gotten to seeing one, but despite the fact that it was only a short distance from us, Western Tree Hyraxes have no eyeshine, so are very difficult to locate even with a spotlight (it was likely sitting in a dense thicket, and when we searched for it with a light, it stopped calling, as they usually do)… We then checked some fruiting trees for African Palm Civet and Hammer Bat without luck, but did see a small chestnut-red bat that was probably one of the Hipposideros species, maybe Noack's Roundleaf Bat (Hipposideros ruber).

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Welcome to ST @@Anomalure - thank you for sharing this with us. I feel like an explorer just reading this - so many new names and species I'd never even heard of before! I have to read that other CAR TR now. I think I never did read the whole report.

Thanks again - and let's see if we can get you posting larger images for the full effect.

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@@Sangeeta yes some image posting help from someone would be nice... :) I'm sure the larger pics would be much better!

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I'm not at all the expert on this, but when you click on the image you wish to insert, choose the size you want (small, medium, large) and click it. Then copy the url of the enlarged image and insert into your post. There is a whole thread on this topic called Inserting Images in text. I am on my phone here so not able to retrieve it for you, but just search those terms & it will pop up - much clearer instructions there :)

Edited by Sangeeta
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Some more photos from day 2 at Dzanga Bai:

 

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The waterfall

*I didn't have my camera out much on this trip (especially since all the foliage around us was dripping wet from the previous night's rain and he walk to the Picathartes cave was quite steep) - that said, everything I saw was really beautiful, I wish I could have photographed more...

 

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Forest Buffalo
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Andrea Turkalo watching elephants in the afternoon
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Dzanga Bai - the view
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African Gray parrots flying along the edge of the bai; at one side of the bai, around 9 AM in the morning, hundreds of African Gray Parrots (about 300 or so) gathered today. Sadly, the flock changed directions very quickly, so I was not in a position to get great pictures.
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This family of Forest Elephants was particularly memorable as ever since they left the forest, they were very shy and kept following the forest edge. I was wondering why at first, then spotted the tiny baby in my binoculars. Even when the entered the bai proper, they were quite wary and the two more mature animals kept the baby between their legs, constantly checking for danger.
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Leaving...
I mixed in some images from the previous day in here too. I just thought the scene at the bai, with the mature forest and interacting elephants was just so beautiful...

 

Edited by Game Warden
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Pangolins!!!

 

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Pangy, the Black-bellied Pangolin! What a beautiful animal!!! (she's grown too)
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Pangy with Rod
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Oko, the White-bellied Pangolin!
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Sleepy...
Bai Hokou (first day)
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Edited by Game Warden
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Way to start posting at Safaritalk! Fantastic. Informative start... Nope, you answered just about every question I had.... And then day-by-day too. My kind of trip report (as a reader - as a writer I tend to be. Bit haphazard with the information).

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Fantastic image...almost as though they were dipped in gold!

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Day 6:

 

Today, we decided to have a busy morning, followed by a more relaxing afternoon at Sangha Lodge.

 

My own main goals for the day were to observe both Sitatunga and some of the many Forest duiker species of the equatorial lowland rainforest ecosystem. My dad's goals were to get better photos and video of Western Lowland Gorillas...

 

I'm happy to report that we were successful in both regards.

 

We set off from Sangha Lodge at 6:30 again (Rod and Christian felt an early start would be best for my ungulates) and we arrived at Bai Hokou 2 hours later. We had a pretty eventful drive as while stopping to chop down a sizeable tree that had fallen onto the road, I spotted a troop of Putty-nosed Monkeys in the trees nearby. While watching them, we got great looks at several Gray-cheeked Mangabeys as well, and after quietly waiting, several of the shier Moustached Monkeys. In the trees near the monkeys was a Red-legged Sun Squirrel. While walking up the road to look for more monkeys just after, Christian spotted a Red-cheeked Rope Squirrel and I got good looks at it. So two new mammals before we had even arrived at Bai Hokou... Not bad.

 

At Bai Hokou, we met up with a second Ba'Aka tracker and we set off towards the first bai. After the first of many stream crossings, we entered some nice closed-canopy Gilbertiodendron dewevrei forest and I got a good look at a Peters' Duiker, with yellowish brown coloration and a rather more pronounced (and wider) black dorsal stripe than that depicted in Jonathan Kingdon's field guide (Rod tells me that the Peters' in this area have this characteristic). Afterwards, we entered a big bai and started paralleling a forest stream covered in fresh Congo Clawless Otter tracks (Christian thought they might be easy to see if you come early in the morning). In the main bai, we headed to a waterhole covered in Buffalo, Sitatunga, and best of all, Bongo tracks.

 

We headed back into the next patch of forest, getting clear views of a Blue Duiker as it shuffled off the trail, then another Peters' Duiker. Christian then told us we would head into 2 large bais to try to find Sitatunga, as these had plenty of marshy vegetation and reeds Sitatunga prefer. In the first bai, there weren't any Sitatunga but heading back into the forest, the tracker spotted a Bay Duiker that I got brief looks at. This animal had a much more reddish coloration than Peters'.

 

At this point, we left the forest once again and headed back into another marshy bai, where the tracker told me to approach quietly. I was quite happy to see there was a nice female Sitatunga standing out in the open (giving good views), but as I raised my binoculars to get a closer look, I felt a shooting pain on the back of my head and Christian said "Run, wasps!". We had no choice but to run out into the bai and the Sitatunga ran off. At this point, all of us began picking off wasps from our heads, clothes, and packs. We probably removed a total of 5 wasps from my head and shirt and another 5 from my backpack. In that regard, it was something of a miracle that I only got stung twice and Christian 3 times.

 

Sadly, this whole fiasco cost us a good look at a Sitatunga, something which as gotten rather more difficult in this park as Sitatunga don't visit Dzanga Bai frequently anymore (mothers and calves used to be omnipresent there, giving great views). Damn wasps... :angry:

 

We didn't see any more mammals on the way out, but we did see a very large (relative for this species) flock of Black-and-white-casqued Hornbills. It sure was an impressive sight to see these huge birds flying overhead in the green forest canopy for 2-3 straight minutes. Back at camp, I rested a little and had a little lunch to ease the pain.

 

--------- Gorillas, part II (according to my dad, as I did the bai walk)

 

When we had arrived at Bai Hokou that morning, my dad was a little nervous to hear the main tracker at Bai Hokou, Emmanuel, say that the Gorillas were 1.5 hours away (the estimate the previous time, 40 min, ended up turning into 2 h 40 min).

 

Interestingly, this time this turned out to be a substantial underestimate as only 45 min away (after one of the earlier stream crossings), the whole Makumba group (4 animals) was in the forest next to one of the small bais. After about 15 min in the forest, the Gorillas decided to feed on some of the tubers growing in the bai and moved out into the open, giving amazing views. I wish I had gone!

 

My dad loved it and the 1 hour with the gorillas simply went by too fast. So in the end, it was a pleasant surprise meeting him at the end of the bai walk (he had been there for 30 min already), considering that I had been expecting to wait 1 hour for his arrival!

 

After lunch, we headed over the small waterfall behind the research station that doubles as the camp's shower. In a small cave behind the waterfall, there is a roost of hundreds of bats, mosting Noack's Roundleaf Bats. (maybe the same species as the bat I saw on the previous night walk, but given the fact that this is a diurnal/day-flying species while the bat I saw previously was most certainly night flying, I'm not really convinced...)

 

From here, we headed back to the lodge for some rest, which is easy to get sitting on the deck watching the river with a drink.

 

That evening, Rod uploaded some recent camera trap footage, so he, Tam, and I sat on the deck, sorting through the different species the camera picked up. Most exciting was documenting a new species for Sangha Lodge, a Link Rat. This amazing animal, with a slender body, relatively short tail, and huge ears, has been seen before by Louis Sarno near his house in Yandoumbe and was a species Rod has been hoping to run into at the lodge for years; apparently if live-trapped or spotlit, they are amazingly tame, allowing close observation. We also found another new rodent with large ears, but this time a longer tail, maybe one of the Malacomys species - all cool rainforest rodents. Afterwards, Rod showed me some previous footage of a variety of species including Emin's Giant Rat, Servaline Genet, Marsh Mongoose, Flat-headed Cusimanse, and most interestingly (for me), an impressive Yellow-backed Duiker which glady consumed the chicken which had been placed out has bait (I never knew this species ate meat!).

 

I was hoping to go for a night walk that evening to target African Palm Civet, but shortly after dinner, it started raining quite hard so I had to run to my room to avoid getting soaked!

 

Gorilla pics coming soon...

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Western Lowland Gorillas:

 

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Makumba crossing the stream into the bai with impressive speed - and on two feet!
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The Makumba Group out in the open, feeding in the bai. A unique experience - viewing habituated Western Lowland Gorillas at close range out in the open - that you can only have in Dzanga Sangha. Apparently, viewing gorillas in the bais is more common in the wet season than the dry.

Edited by Game Warden
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