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Langoue Bai

Fair warning- if you’re only interested in manatees, skip to the last paragraph of this posting. I occasionally write about other things I’m seeing to give another perspective of where I am, and this is one of those times!

For the past 4 days I took a much needed break from work and have been in the interior of Gabon at Ivindo National Park’s Langoue Bai, which is a marshy clearing in the forest where elephants, gorillas, forest buffalo and other animals come to drink water. I went with 2 Italian friends, Andrea and Virginia, who have been working with sea turtles here in Gabon for the past month. It was something of an ordeal to get there… from Libreville we took a long taxi ride to an overnight train (which was as cold as a meat locker and as slow as a snail, impossible for me to sleep) to Ivindo. We were met there by my friend Ruth, who runs Langoue Bai. We had breakfast, then drove 2 hours into the forest on a dirt road (at one point we had to stop because an enormous tree had fallen across the road overnight, so an Ecoguide who was with us chainsawed through it so we could continue). We arrived at a trailhead and then backpacked 8km up a steep hill and deep into the forest to the Langoue Bai camp. The hiking was intense (ok, I admit I quickly realized I’m really out of shape!) because the trail was not only steep, but muddy and slippery. But the steep hill is apparently the reason this forest is still intact- the logging companies weren’t able to get their equipment up the hill, so they never logged the forest here and then it became a national park. By the time we got there we’d been traveling for 19 hours straight, but it was so incredibly beautiful it was all worth it.

View of the kitchen and dining/living room buildings at Langoue Bai camp. All the buildings were built on top of a large open rock clearing, so no forest was cleared for the camp.

The camp is really well done- 5 platforms with large tents, a dining/living room building, an office, kitchen and shower buildings all built on a huge area of flat rock. The first afternoon we took a short walk to a nearby clearing and saw a pretty rare bird, the Picathartes, as well as some grey-cheeked mangebeys. The Bai (which is a Pygmy word for “clearing”) is another hour hike from camp so that most human activities are far removed from where the animals aggregate. For the next 2 days we spent all day at a raised platform at the edge of the Bai. The first day we saw at least 14 forest elephants, 50 red river hogs, forest buffalo, Sitatunga (a type of forest antelope), 4 gorillas and some cool birds including a Great Blue Turaco. The next day there were more elephants and sitatunga, plus a family group of 11 gorillas came in, including several tiny babies riding on their mother’s backs. It’s surreal to be there, you feel almost like you’ve been dropped into Jurassic Park. A researcher from Cornell’s Elephant Listening Project, Peter, is in Langoue for 6 weeks recording elephant vocalizations on Autonomous Recording Units (ARUs) which are the same type of units my colleagues will use to record whale calls in Angola. It would also be neat to see if these units can determine manatee presence in Gabon’s lagoons someday. Elephant chasing Sitatunga out of the water hole.

Elephants and Red River Hogs enjoying the mud. I was told that these animals actually depend on this resource more for minerals than water.The silverback male on the left is “Padouk” with part of his large family group.Handsome male elephant. Modeste and Alain, the two Gabonese guys at Langoue studying the elephants, recognize individuals by ear notches, tusk length/condition and the “brush” on the tail. They have catalogged 1000 different individuals; this one is “Dan”. A new female elephant came in to the Bai our first day, so we got to name it. We chose “Paradis” (French for paradise, because that’s what the Bai is!).

The viewing platform at the Bai has 3 levels- researchers on the top, tourists in the middle, storage on the lower level. There were so many butterflies everywhere, it was unbelievable. We saw some amazing species.
A civet (rare dog-like African mammal) that we saw on 2 different nights! (Photo by Andrea Dondona)

Carnivorous flower (like a Venus fly-trap). It was about the size of my foot, and Ruth (who has worked in this forest for 4 years) had never seen it before. The biodiversity here is asounding.
Happy campers- Lucy, Viginia and Andrea by a big tree in the forest.

After 3 fabulous days, we walked back out of the forest and got a ride back to Ivindo. Ruth mentioned that some of the guys who worked in the park might know if manatees were ever sighted in the Ivindo or Ogooue Rivers (which intersect near the town of Ivindo), so we went and talked to a few of them. I had previously been told (by others) that manatees were not found east of Lope on the Ogooue because of rocks and rapids in the river, but I had also heard one report that manatees have been sighted at Tsenge Tsenge, which is east of Lope on the Ivindo River. The Ivindo guys also said they knew of manatees at Tsenge Tsenge, and said an old fisherman at Ivindo had seen manatees there as well, but not for about 10 years. They had some other interesting info as well. Now that I’ve seen the rapids myself, I’m sure manatees could swim up them in periods of high water. Manatees in Florida swim equally strong currents going up power plant intake pipes!

  • Anonymous

    November 7, 2007 at 12:43 pm Reply

    the flower is of the species Parastolochia macrocarpa

  • Lucy

    November 7, 2007 at 12:45 pm Reply

    Thanks Miguel 😉

  • Nils

    November 8, 2007 at 8:23 am Reply

    Very good photos!

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