Highlights from the past week
There’s way too much to describe, so I’m just going to give a few highlights from each day.
– For our first morning out, we headed north to 2 lakes off the lagoon well-known for manatee sightings: Lac Sounga and Lac Simba. Each time I come to Gabon I have this secret fear that after all the preparations and time and money to get here, I won’t be able to find any manatees! So there, the secret’s out. But the good news is that we had 3 sightings the first morning! One of the sightings was 2 individuals, the others were single animals and as usual my pictures are all mud swirls and “footprints” on the water. But that ties my only other sighting of 4 animals in a single day almost exactly a year ago at Iguela (next lagoon to the north). So, a good beginning.
– We also saw a mother hippo taking her calf into the lagoon, and a large group of black mangebeys (monkeys) eating in the trees over a quiet cove.
Black Mangabey in the leaves
– Today we went south in the lagoon to the nearby village of Pitonga. I had heard stories about a man (a Shell employee from Gamba) who has a weekend house there and claims he sees manatees feeding in front of the house all the time. We went to the house and talked to the caretaker who told us yes, manatees are there feeding on the aquatic plants all the time, but only at high tide and mostly in the dry season. Of course it was low tide and there were no manatees, but I jumped in the water and dug up some of the plants from the sandy bottom. Now I just need to figure out what it is! Any of you aquatic vegetation people out there who might know, please feel free to post a comment or email me.
– Just after I got out of the water, Alain pointed out a snake swimming right next to the boat. It was about 1.5 feet long and seemed intent on avoiding us, but still, you don’t hear much about NON-poisonous snakes here!
The beach here has this feeling of incredible wildness. Almost no human footprints, but plenty of animal tracks.
– We returned to a series of mangrove fringed lakes and channels south of Sette Cama and near Pitonga this morning. I had my best single day of manatee sightings in Gabon so far- at least 5 animals in 3 different sightings. One group literally erupted in the water as we came around a corner, but with all the mud swirls it was hard to tell how many were there (3 for sure, I would bet there were more but I always have to go with the most conservative number).
They had the vertebrae upside-down and backwards on this display, so I fixed them!
– Today we explored a large part of the northern end of the lagoon. The water is much deeper there. We didn’t see any manatees, although they have been seen there in the past. We don’t get lucky everyday, especially in a lagoon as huge as this (it’s about the size of Delaware).
Putty-nosed MonkeyThe forest here is absolutely fantastic. You wouldn’t believe all the diversity and beautiful shades of green. Manatees rest close to shore under the overhanging boughs.
– For the last day of surveys we headed up the lagoon (which narrows to a channel about a mile wide for 10km or so) to the embrochure (inlet) where it drains into the ocean. The salinity was very low all the way to the mouth and there is lots of good manatee habitat, but there are also more fishermen around than in other parts of the lagoon and we didn’t see any.
– On the walk back we found a fresh Ridley sea turtle nest, saw a Marsh Mongoose and then walked through forest where we saw some monkeys and a rather large forest cobra (at least 4 foot long and as wide as my arm, I was not sorry to see it slither away from us!). So the walk definitely made up for the lack of manatees!