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Lac Cachima and the Nyanga River

Last Tuesday I left Gamba again, this time in a truck towing a boat. We headed south of town across the savannah (on an actual road!) to the Nyanga River where we launched the boat. DeDe, my guide (who also took me up the Rembo Bongo) and I headed upriver and then turned into a smaller tributary that took us to Lac Cachimba. This is a large lake that had been reported as full of manatees, and I was not disappointed. We surveyed that afternoon and Wednesday morning, and in the short space of about 7 hours, we had 7 sightings! A new record for Gabon! It seemed everywhere we went- near shore, offshore, coves- we found manatees. And even though the lake was practically boiling over with them, alas STILL no decent photo! Although the lake is shallow, the water is the consistency of chocolate milk. At one point we spooked a group of manatees, stopped the boat and they were swimming high speed circles around the boat, yet we never even saw so much as the tip of a nose! You can’t imagine the frustration of seeing all the fluke prints but nothing of the animal (well, maybe some of the other manatee biologists know this frustration)… never again will I wonder how those people in the Everglades study FL panthers for years without ever seeing them. I’m beginning to think these Gabonese manatees don’t breathe air! Kidding…

We camped Tuesday night at the village of Cachimba, which was about a 20 minute hike from the lake. It was a bit of a ghost town- lots of houses but almost everyone gone (probably to find work in Gamba or other cities). There was an old chief, his 3 wives and about 100 chickens there. We were able to pitch our tents under a large tarp which was great to keep the rain from leaking in, but the roosters crowed all night and the mosquitoes were fierce, so we couldn’t wait to get back out on the water in the morning. We found lots of fresh manatee feeding sign (only really possible to see if hippos aren’t present) and saw a few fishermen and some nets set around the lake. My guess is that some manatees are accidentally caught in those nets and eaten, but the only known hunter who had been in Cachimba was gone, so there was no one to interview. After a very pleasant morning sighting manatees all around the lake, we headed back out to the river.

Quiet paddling in the early morning, hoping to see feeding manatees on Lac Cachimba.

Using the cool depth sounder bought with funds from my Columbus Zoo grant… it allows for depth readings “on the fly” as we travel the murky waters of Gabon!

On the left side of the photo is the fluke print and pressure wake of a manatee doing high speed circles around the boat!

Unfortunately that’s when the weather deteriorated and we spent the day in dismal, hard driving rain. We could barely see the river much less anything in it, and I lamented to myself that I had no other dry socks or pants and was about to spend the night in a wet tent. But I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the village of Igotchi, where they had a very nice Cas de Passage (house for travelers) that we were able to stay in. At Igotchi the river has large boulders and rapids and you can go no further upriver in a boat. Igotchi is a gorgeous place… when I disappear into the jungle for awhile to live a quiet life with the elephants and gorillas, that’s where I’ll be! No electricity but right on the edge of the Moukalaba-Doudou National Park, a perfect wilderness.

Rapids at Igotchi

Cas de Passage at Igotchi

On Thursday we headed back down the Nyanga (saw a large group of 10 hippos on the way, good thing Tim wasn’t with us). The river is wide and very deep, with little settlements all along it, so if manatees are there, they would be very difficult to find. We took the river all the way to its mouth at the ocean, then back-tracked to another small river that runs parallel to the coast through mangrove habitat. It was great to see the whole area with all the different habitats, and incredible to know there are so many manatees in Cachimba! I got back to Gamba on Thursday night, and although I love being in the field, there are few things more wonderful than showering and scrubbing off 10 layers of sweat, dirt, bug spray and sunscreen, then having a cold drink and a delicious dinner of crevettes (crayfish in a nice garlic butter sauce)!

Near the mouth of the Nyanga river: lagoon on the left and ocean is to the right of the photo

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