This past weekend Angela and I went up to Akanda National Park, about 30 minutes north of Libreville. Manatees are rare there, but there are occasional sightings and reports of them hunted as bushmeat, so I primarily went to talk to villagers in the area. Unlike national parks in the USA, there are villages inside parks here, which can cause conflicts over hunting and other resource use.
We had another adventure in local travel getting there when the dirt road became a giant mud bog and our taxi could go no further; luckily a very nice Gabonese couple picked us up in their 4×4 SUV, but then the road got even worse (huge trucks stuck in mud 2 feet deep) so we ended up walking the last half mile to a boat ramp at Cap Caravane. Angela’s assistant Innocent met us there with the same boat we used at Cap Esterias. We headed down the river to a spot Angela had heard about, where juvenile sea turtles supposedly congregate in large numbers. On the way we met and interviewed a local fisherman about turtles, manatees, crocs and dolphins. We often ask about multiple species because it puts people at ease to talk about a variety of general topics, and they aren’t biased by knowing we are mostly interested in 1 species. Also, if they think you are only interested in protected species (and they happen to hunt it) they tend to become wary and/or lie.
We sat in the boat at “Turtle Junction” for 2 hours, enjoying the sun and a nice lunch of sandwiches and fresh mangoes. Innocent and I each saw a turtle head pop up, but poor Angela didn’t see either of them (they pop up and are gone in a flash).
Rocky substrate at “Turtle Junction” is likely why the turtles are there- plants and algae they like to eat grow on the rocks.
After a couple hours we headed north to the village of Moka, which I visted last year. It’s a Nigerian fishing village. People in nearby Cap Esterias told us they kill and eat manatees. The Cheif of Moka remembered me from last year and was not enthusiastic about answering questions. He repeated several times that they don’t see or hunt any manatees. But eventually we got him to warm up a bit and he told us a bit about seasonality of sightings and a few other tidbits. He also talked to Angela about turtles.
Moka’s main drag
We were running a bit low on boat fuel, so we weren’t able to go to the second village I had hoped to visit. Because of our difficulties in the morning, we decided to ride the boat back to Cap Esterias and take a taxi home from there. So we headed out into Corisco Bay where there were lots of shorebirds- Skimmers, plovers, terns and gulls on sandbars. The bay was alot rougher than last week and we got soaked, but otherwise it was a nice ride.