I spent an incredible year at Odzala Discovery Camps. I feel privileged to have had this opportunity to spend quality time in the Congo Basin, sharing all its splendours with, not only guests, but also fellow guides.
A rainforest is a place that keeps you on your toes. Animal sightings do not come as easy due to the expansive size of the Park. With the remoteness, and the fact that most of the animals are so wild and not used to people (especially on foot). You must work hard to find the larger animal species, however, when you do, the reward feels so much greater. Even if the larger hairy and scary animals do not show themselves every day, the forest is buzzing with many other interesting creatures. Out there, the saying “every day is a school day” has been never been truer. From crazy ants whose brains get taken over by a mind-controlling fungus (Ophiocordyceps), to birds of every colour combination you could ever imagine, and the aromatic smells of the many different types of flowering plants and trees that often fill the forest air.
As the age-old saying goes, “to everything its season, to everything its time.”
Every month is unpredictable as the last. March 2018 was no exception. I arrived at a high river, large mud puddles on the road, and very regular rain showers. That year, the rain came later, and the river was low enough for us to stand most of the way. With low waters comes to the promise of the expansion of dry ground to discover.
When the opportunity presents itself in the forest systems, we did exactly that. Explore.
April was an exciting month. We noticed a herd of seven elephants who had been hanging around the banks of the Lekoli River for most of the year. They are getting amazingly comfortable with our presence. This shows the level of ethics that our guides have, knowing when we overstay our welcome and when the animals are relaxed seeing them. In the long run, it is situations like this that show our efforts are not in vain, because the herd, even then, was so comfortable with us, that we had sightings of up to an hour with them casually sleeping and feeding.
April/May appears to be the months where most of the Bongo sightings take place. They enjoy the transition periods between dry and rainy months. The increase in their sightings may be because we can explore more areas as well as the Bongo themselves are more able to move freely through the drier forest.
Many of the fig trees in the forest start fruiting around this time. This brings more chimpanzee sightings. We often went more than a month without seeing any chimps, but that April/May we were fortunate to have six sightings. This was similar to April/May in the year prior. Some guides, having never seen chimps, having then seen them that year on three occasions in a single month. Do you know what they say? “When it rains, it pours.”
Another highlight of my year at Odzala Discovery Camps was the tasting of different fruits in the forest. As guides, we look forward to the months of May – July, as this is when a lot of the trees in the forests and savannahs are fruiting. This potentially means more primate sightings and some interesting gorilla behaviour during tracks.
The Western Lowland Gorillas love feasting on the variety of fruits that the forests of the Congo Basin have to offer, which is causally related to their far more arboreal behaviour in comparison to Eastern Lowland and Mountain gorilla species. It is also an absolute treat to be able to taste a lot of these fruits for ourselves. During night drives, the presence of fruit-eating bats increases, as well as the various Galago species found, particularly around Ngaga Camp.
Heading into June and July, the guides look forward to seeing the Red River Hoglets. In 2017, most of the guides were fortunate enough to come across sounders of Red River Hogs with often more than six hoglets present. This seems to be the time of year that is best for the mother to raise their young.
No year is ever the same. The smallest change in climate can bring about massive changes. Each year, the team at Congo Conservation Company looks forward to what the months that follow hold – and what nature will reveal.