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INTO THE 'HEART OF DARKNESS'.


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Atravelynn

Giant Forest Hogs are a favorite of mine!  Your counts of species give a good perspective.  Darn sweat bees!  Good thing you had your nets.  Love the orangey mud sunscreen on the eles.  All the sitting bongo emphasize the peacefulness of Dzanga Bai.

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Alexander33

What a wonderful report of such a fascinating destination. Good for you for exploring all the different aspects of this location.  You’ve provided some truly valuable insight and detailed, practical “insider’s” information for those of us who long to go there — maybe someday. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience. 

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gatoratlarge

That last picture of the bai sort of says it all in one photo...the word Eden has probably been overused but it's appropriate for Sangha Dzanga...looking across the bai, I can imagine that this scene has played out over the millenia and will continue if "mankind" can just let it be so.  A World Heritage Site for sure...thanks for the trip back to CAR...I enjoyed it thoroughly!

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Galago

I love that final shot of Dzanga Bai, just glorious. And the magabey sightings are so interesting. They seem to have been quite calm and posing for photos almost, presumably semi-habituated by their rangers. I laughed at you getting wet feet again - remember how muddy you were when you went out to see the pythons at Camp Nomade 'cos you didn't take your boots off!! 😄 Looking forward to your final installment.

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inyathi

Great report thanks, very envious of all those bongos, an animal I’ve only ever seen in captivity, I really need to visit Dzangha Bai someday, the mangabey experience reminds me of my own experience with the Sanje mangabeys in Udzungwa Mountains NP in Tanzania, but I hope without the mountains rather easier. I’ve never seen a pangolin anywhere, so that’s another very good reason to visit.

 

I was very interested to hear about the golden cats in Tanz I hadn’t caught up with that news, I think though you mistyped, you meant N.W. Tanzania, I looked up the story and I see the cat was photographed in the Minziro Forest Reserve, that doesn’t surprise me, this reserve near Lake Victoria is right on the Uganda border and is the only piece of what is essentially Congolese rainforest in Tanzania. It’s the only place outside Uganda where you can see what’s now called the Uganda mangabey formerly a subspecies of the grey-cheeked and has a whole bunch of rainforest birds found nowhere else in Tanzania. I’ve not been there myself, but I do know someone who’s birded there, if you’ve birded in Uganda there’s little point. It will be interesting to see if in the coming years they find golden cats in any other forest reserves in the area or perhaps in the newly declared Rumanyika National Park (just north of Akagera NP in Rwanda) which appears to have a fair bit of forest in it. Of course, if the new national parks in that part of Tanzania are developed and tourists start to go there, then visiting Minziro Forest would make sense.

 

Back a bit more on topic I think it’s so important that people are still willing to visit Dzanga-Sangha, I hope that people reading this report will see past the FCO travel advice as you did and visit this Central African jewel. Travel warnings certainly don’t seem to have put people off going to Zakouma I see from AP’s latest annual report that Camp Nomade is now being booked two years in advance. I was also interested to see that they are trying to get tourism up and running again in Garamba NP in the DRC, as there’s been no tourism there since 2015, it’ll be interesting to see what happens as it is unfortunately within the red part of the FCO’s DRC map. Much more of the DRC map is green than I thought would be the case, so perhaps you should consider an expedition in search of the Congo peacock and some bonobos.

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johnweir

@inyathi, thank you for your meaningful contribution to my report and in particular for correcting my error regarding the Golden Cat camera trap sighting in Tanzania. Are you familiar with the results of the FFI, Bucknell Univ. (2015) expedition to South Sudan. Whilst surveying the under-explored forests of Western Equatoria they captured on camera trap the first known photographs of the Golden Cat, Water Chevrotain, Red River Hog  and Giant Pangolin from South Sudan. They also recorded the first sighting of Forest Elephants in the country. The presence of Chimpanzees, Leopard, 4 species of Mongoose, Spotted Hyena, Yellow-backed Duiker, Honey Badger and Western Bongo were also confirmed . This is a country that really does interest me, and it would be great to think that at some stage soon it will be in a position to accept wildlife tourists. Sightings of both the Congo Peacock and Bonobo look quite difficult but possible, if I was and I'm not at this stage really keen to try for them I would possibly start with a conversation with Rod Cassidy, who I know may have some details about Lomako N.P. (D.R.C.) and what activities are available there. 

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johnweir

Apologies for the delay in making this final posting.

 

Saturday 27th, this was to be our final day in camp. We decided to split up again with two members electing to make a third visit to Dzanga Bai and the others including myself would explore the area around camp in the morning with an emphasis on birding (led by Alon, Rod & Tamar's son) and then in the afternoon we would take a trip upstream and do what is called the 'Waterfall Walk', which we were told could result in the sighting of an Anomalure roost, this was a mammal I was not familiar with, nor had seen before. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the various trails close to the lodge and recorded 35 new species/ssp. of birds. Photography was difficult and the highlight of the walk for me was several brief sightings of the Great Blue Turaco, a wonderful large bird. Midway through the morning we called in at The Pangolin Project facility and luckily the only patient in care at the moment was awake, active and well.5H1A8062.jpeg.11f6bf1284b34b6a927a012c67a16ab0.jpeg

Once again this is a Black-bellied (Long-tailed) Pangolin, it is a male and he had been in care for two months, he was found abandoned in the forest by a forest person and taken to the lodge. On arrival he was not eating but is now eating ants independently, which is great news. His enclosure was spacious and extremely well designed to replicate his natural environment, and there were plenty of ants available for him to eat.The tongue of a Pangolin is incredible, about 25cm long for this individual. 

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These smaller Pangolins are extremely gentle mammals, and although I am sure they will be difficult to locate in the forest, once found would be relatively easy to catch by a poacher etc. This Pangolin was 3-4 months old when received and is now about 6 months old.

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The Pangolin was weighed and found to have put on 20g since he was last weighed, which is good news and points eventually to a positive outcome. He will be released as soon as possible into the wild to roam completely free, although I am sure he will be tracked for a long period after release. Rod, Tamar, Maja and the rest of the team have/are doing a fantastic job with Pangolins at a time when the survival of the species is so acutely threatened. 

During the walk we came across this huge Cicada.

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A Giant Forest Cicada, Pyona seimclara, without exaggeration it was at least 6.5cm in length.

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This I was not expecting, a Common Sandpiper in the rainforest. It crossed my mind as to who would get back to Scotland first me or him. They are regularly seen quite close to our house in the Scottish Borders in Summer. During our walk we also saw a Red-legged Sun Squirrel and a Thomas's Rope Squirrel.

 

 The images below were taken at lunchtime and are just for general information.

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The entrance to the main dining / social area.

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Everything set for lunch, other than the guests there were always other interesting people about to talk to.

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Sangha River from the lodge, upstream.

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Sangha River from the lodge, downstream towards Bayanga and beyond. The River Congo is about 450 miles in a generally southern direction.

 

After lunch we headed upstream by boat for about 5 miles,

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and then headed inland on foot, after a few minutes we came across this deserted fishing camp, there were several on the sections of the river we explored. Goliath

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Tigerfish are occasionally found in the vicinity of the lodge, although not as regularly as they used to be. They can grow to 6 feet in length and weigh as much as 110+ Ib, they have been known to attack humans. The walk was quite steep and slippery and I was not in the right footwear so I was finding it difficult, having opted for my sandals again hoping my boots would dry out for the long trip home, another bad decision. Eventually we came to a huge tree with a massive buttress which was hollow, our guide went inside with a torch but embarrassingly I found it impossible to join him although I could get my head in. The hollow section went upwards for about 20 feet and was home to several Slit-faced Bats, however half way up two Lord Derby's Anomalure were clearly visible. Basically they are large gliding Squirrels that are able to extend a large flap of skin between their arms and legs to give them a primitive flight capability which they use very effectively. We then continued upwards towards the waterfalls which are famous as a nesting location for the Red-headed Picathartes. We were there at the wrong time of year to see them, but two nests were clearly visible. They have been used several times in recent years but last year or the year before the adult birds did not appear. Rod discovered the site whilst out on a general recognoiter, feeling the location was ideal for Picathartes, his hunch was subsequently proved to be correct. The opportunity to view these birds has drawn several visitors to the lodge. We then returned slowly to the boat and drifted back to the lodge, with good sightings of a Broad-billed Roller and a Black-casqued Hornbill.

There was a small settlement just south of the lodge, I was interested to have a look so our guide took me ashore  for a few minutes, the images speak for themselves.

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The two members of our group who visited the bai again, saw nothing we had not already observed. The following day we flew back to Bangui and then on to Nairobi (overnight stop), on the Monday I flew to Heathrow and on to Newcastle arriving back in my home in Scotland at 22.00. What a wonderful trip, one of my best. Dzanga Bai has to be one of the most wonderful wildlife experiences available. It is rather like Zakouma a unique wildlife viewing destination, I'm not sure I will ever forget how I first felt when I entered Dzanga Bai and saw the Bongo, it is quite simply paradise on earth, for the time being at least.

 

Thoughts:

1. Sangha Lodge/ C.A.R/ Dzanga Bai, certainly appears on many people's wish list. 80 visitors last year to the lodge does appear very low so something is stopping people going. Is it cost? It is a relatively expensive trip and I am not sure how that cost can be reduced at the moment. The only way in is by the private internal flight, which is an expensive part of the trip as in Zakouma. As already mentioned Rod is not accepting any bookings from clients travelling by road, which is a shame as the drive in over two days would be fascinating and challenging. Is it the security issues that keep people away, they have been highlighted worldwide, my own experience at Heathrow indicated this, "Are you aware you will be entering a war zone', all I can say is I never once felt at risk during the trip. But I only really saw the airport and the area around the lodge. The only unpleasantness we had was at Bangui International Airport on the way back when one of my fellow travellers had to pay a bribe in order to keep a souvenir he had bought in the park, despite having an export permit.

It is interesting that none of the many operators who arrange trips to Sangha offer an overnight stay in Bangui, it appears to be into the airport and out as quickly as possible. C.A.R. has the potential to be a wildlife hotspot but that time is probably a long way off, it really is a great shame that the tensions in the country continue to exist. 

2. At the time of this visit to Sangha Lodge a new luxury cabin was being built and there are plans to upgrade all the existing cabins. I personally think they are fine as they are but I got the impression that an 'arrangement' has been reached with Odzala Discovery Camps to offer an extension for their clients staying in Odzala-Kokoua to visit Sangha. This will probably be by a short flight and a long boat ride up the Sangha River. One of our group actually did this transfer, was he a guinea pig? He sent me details recently, he flew from Mboko (Odzala airstrip. Rep.of Congo) to a small airstrip on the Sangha River in C.A.R. (small village built years ago by one of the lumber companies) about a one hour flight. I am assuming that was Kabo. He went through immigration there, with "no hassles''. Then walked down to the river and was met by employees from Sangha for the 5-6 hour transfer to the lodge by boat. He stopped at each district boundary for his documents to be checked, it took 10 minutes each time and there were 5 stops. One U.K. operator is already offering this extension for 5 nights at the considerable cost of £4595, which when added to the cost of the usual three centre trip in and around Odzala, would make this a trip one for only the very wealthy natural world enthusiast. I am of the opinion this option will not be very popular or cost effective so I am not sure exactly what is going on, or who is pulling the strings. It will be interesting to see what packages become available in the future and at what cost.

3. Mbeli Bai (Rep. of Congo), I am fairly sure that the basic lodge here is due for an extensive up grade. Mbeli is known for good Lowland Gorilla sightings in the bai itself thus making photographing them much easier. Most of the other wildlife found here can be observed elsewhere and possibly in better numbers. Therefore in the long term it could be possible to do a three centre trip, or combinations of Odzala/ Sangha/ Mbeli. I think that the camp in Mbeli Bai is now operated by ODC.

3. If I ever return to Sangha Lodge I would opt for the 10 day visit, it is a long way to go for 7 nights and I left with several things still to do. I should have done more night walks and that was my own fault for not arranging more. I was rather disappointed only to see two primate species and with some extra days that could have been resolved as other species were certainly about.

4. Getting your footwear right is essential. I should have taken an old pair of boots for the wet walking and kept my better boots dry, also my blister issue would then have been avoided. Sandals are not appropriate in a rainforest environment, far too many ants.

5. The quality of the laundry at the lodge was a god send, which meant I had dry clothes each day. They would not have dried overnight. Before departure I had wrapped most of my clothes in sealed plastic bags which kept them dry. The bags were then used on my feet when my boots were wet.

 

I look forward later this year to the reports from those STers visiting Gabon, another trip on my ever growing wish list, for now however I will enjoy my vivid memories of C.A.R. and I thank all those I was so privileged to travel with for your companionship, I hope we travel together soon, a special thank you to Owen, the tablets worked. 

 

'Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine.The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloomy overshadowed distances". HEART OF DARKNESS. Joseph Conrad.

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by johnweir
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Zubbie15

Thanks for sharing @johnweir, very fascinating. I can say that, in my case, until the travel warnings for CAR get better there is little chance I would be able to convince my wife to go to Sangha, so that would be what would hold us back.

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Zim Girl

@johnweir

I have really enjoyed reading this brilliant report.  I tried on a couple of occasions several years ago to arrange trips to CAR, at that time the only viable option seemed to be via Rep of Congo and involved a fairly lengthy up country route by int flight and road which made the overall trip too long in duration for us.  It is still somewhere I want to visit and the logistics of getting there have changed since I last looked, so maybe that will still happen.  

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Towlersonsafari

what a splendid report-I forgot i had some very boring training I was so engrossed, thanks  @johnweir

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optig

@zubbie I quite understand your wife's fear and trepidation,however you don't have anything to fear. Please don't forget the sheer size of the Central African Republic and the fact that in Dzanga Sangha National Park there has been no rebel activity for several years.

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inyathi

@johnweir   

 

Sorry I meant to post a reply a little ago, I’m sure you’re right that Rod would be the person to ask about bonobos etc, I haven’t really given it serious consideration, I’ve only looked at a couple of BirdQuest trip reports as I think they’ve done at least two Congo peacock expeditions now. 

 

It’s such a shame about the rest of CAR, I read a few reports on the situation in CAR I understood that they had established a proper government and had elected a new president in 2016 Faustin-Archange Touadéra, so things seemed to be more positive it looked like they might start to sort things out. However, as far I can see nothing much has really changed, I don’t know whether Touadéra and the new government just don’t have any real power outside Bangui, or just aren’t up to the job or are no better than their predecessors. It seems that they really haven’t done anything to address any of the problems that provoked all of the recent violence and that the whole country is still in such a mess, that there doesn’t seem to be any hope, that things will be sorted out any time soon. Ever since I first read about it years ago, I’ve always wanted to visit Manovo Gounda St Floris National Park up in the north, but that has never been possible or not sensible, as time has gone on my enthusiasm for wanting to go there has diminished somewhat, just because I dread to think what state the park is in and how much wildlife there is left. I only hope that one day sanity will be restored to the country, then perhaps it might be possible to restore it and the other parks, thanks to the excellent work African Parks is doing in Chinko and of course in Zakouma these two parks should be able to provide animals for eventual restocking. It’s just so fortunate that Sangha is really so cut off from the rest of CAR that it has survived.

 

I completely agree about RoSS what that benighted country has to offer as a safari destination would be incredible, I had such high hopes when they finally gained independence from Sudan, having always cursed the fact that when the UK and Egypt agreed to give the Sudanese self-government in 1950s, they didn’t have the sense to split the south from the north and create two countries. I didn’t anticipate that RoSS would descend almost immediately into civil war, I obviously didn’t know enough about the country, thinking that all of their problems emanated from Khartoum and after they split everything would be fine. I happily imagined that by now at least a few intrepid safari goers would be visiting to see the kob migration and other wildlife. I’m just so glad that even if we can’t sensibly go there yet, that there are conservationists and scientists still working out there to conserve the wildlife, I hope as you say that it becomes safe to visit before to long. I am aware of that research I actually meant to post something about the project a while ago, because it’s still ongoing and anyone who has the time, can take part in the project by viewing the camera trap images online to try and identify any of the animals that appear. I keep meaning to sign up and have a go but I haven’t got around to it yet. I’ll try and add a proper post at some point but in the meanwhile here’s the link.

 

South Sudan Diversity Cam

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  • 1 month later...

I really enjoyed reading your TR about one of the lesser known countries and wildlife areas. I don't see myself travelling up there in the near future, due to a combination of safety, costs and other trips on my wish list. But a seed has been planted in my head, so who knows if ever end up there. The landscape and wildlife sure look amazing!

 

On 5/25/2019 at 1:31 AM, johnweir said:

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Especially pictures like these grab my intention.

 

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  • 8 months later...
Super LEEDS
On 5/19/2019 at 10:51 PM, johnweir said:

discover Cassidy not Kurtz

 

I loved this line! Thanks, fantastic trip/report.

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  • 10 months later...
RC88COR

@johnweirWhat an incredible trip! Loved the photos and reading about your experiences. Dzangha-Sangha has been at the top of my list for years, so it's great to read your TR. Thank you!

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