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C.A.R. Blog 3: Deeper into Dzanga Ndoki
Munir Virani — in Central Africa Project    Share

Editor's note: The following article is from Rebecca Johnson and Gus Keys, volunteers working to begin The Peregrine Fund's project in the Central African Republic. — When our BaAka tracker turned to us in the forest and yelled, “Run! Big Daddy coming!” we didn’t wait about to find out who Big Daddy was. When we came to a halt ten minutes later, after a series of stumbling sprints through the rainforest, we found out that Big Daddy is one of the biggest Forest Elephants that live in Dzanga Ndoki National Park, Central African Republic, where we are currently carrying out a bird of prey survey for The Peregrine Fund.

After a serene couple of weeks based at nearby Sangha Lodge, we headed deeper into the rainforest for weeks three and four of our survey. Luckily our excellent trackers were always on hand to keep a watchful eye for big mammals so we could concentrate on searching for awesome raptor species such as Crowned Eagle and Long-tailed Hawk. This National Park is made up of dense rainforest punctuated by many natural open areas called “bais” which are ideal for getting a view of the sky above the canopy to look for soaring raptors.

Crowned eagles are one of the most powerful and impressive of Africa’s raptors, but had eluded us so far during our survey. After a few days of survey work in the National Park we were treated to a pair displaying directly overhead, the male calling repeatedly, swooping down on closed wings before rising back up again with wings outstretched - a wonderful sight. We were also lucky enough to hear two of the most elusive species that we have been trying to track down, Congo Serpent Eagle and Long-tailed Hawk, calling from amongst the dense understory.

Our home for most of the time was Bai Hokou forest camp, just a few kilometers from the Congo border, where a dedicated team of researchers, volunteers, guides and forest trackers spend their time working on iconic species such as the Western Lowland Gorilla. Ecotourism helps to fund the conservation of the forest here, and tourists get the chance to spend an hour with a group of habituated gorillas. One morning we took a well-earned break from raptors to visit Makumba, a silverback male, and his group of females and offspring, and had magical views of the gorillas quietly feeding in one of the bais near camp.

From here we jumped in the back of a World Wide Fund For Nature pick-up truck to bump and bounce our way through the forest to Dzanga Bai camp. This small camp is the home of world-renowned elephant researcher Andrea Turkalo, who has been working on a long-term behavioural study for the Wildlife Conservation Society for the last couple of decades. The camp also turned out to be a great spot for nocturnal raptors, with Vermiculated Fishing Owl and Akun Eagle Owl heard one night. We spent a rather comfortable few hours one day carrying out a vantage point watch from the impressive viewing platform at the edge of the bai near camp. As well as a Crowned Eagle gliding low over the length of the bai, putting up all the waterbirds feeding there, we were also treated to excellent views of elephants, Giant Forest Hogs and even a lone Bongo antelope.

Despite having a fantastic couple of weeks in the National Park, it was great to get back to Sangha Lodge and be greeted by our host Rod brandishing a couple of ice cold beers! There are still plenty of forest tracks and trails to be explored in the Special Reserve, so who knows what we’ll find next. More to follow on Notes From The Field soon.

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