On the third morning, after a special hour spent with the the western lowland gorillas close to the Ngaga camp, it was time to decamp and move onto our second camp.
“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”~ Ernest Hemingway
Our trip to the new camp was split into two parts. The first stage was a drive by game vehicle to the Mboko camp where we were given a superb lunch. We had no idea what was coming next. After a short relaxation time, we started the second part of our journey to the second camp. From Mboko we drove down to the Lekoli river where we climbed onto kayaks. Daniella, our Odzala guide, took us down the river to exit some distance further down at the entrance to the Lango bai.
We had a wonderful hour gliding down the Lekoli river in peace and quiet watching all the wildlife along the river. The forest bulges right onto the river bank. We had fleeting glimpse of several kingfishers, Palm nut vultures, hornbills and a few Cattle egrets.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”~ Saint Augustine
We paddled part the way up a tributary into the Lango bai until it got too shallow. We then beached the kayaks on a sand bank and started to walk deeper into the bai. All our kit had been taken by vehicle via a back route through the forest and along the edge of a savanna opening. After walking for about half an hour this was the view in front of us – Lango bai.
A bai is natural forest clearing which is unique to the lowland of central Africa. It is a swampy grassy like meadow in the middle of the rainforest. These bais have several important roles to play from a wildlife, forest and human point of view.
These bais are effectively swamps. To course your way through the bai you must follow game trails. You will walk knee deep in water, mud and decomposing vegetation. The marshy water has slightly sulphury smell due to all the rotting vegetation but its coolness is refreshing in the tropical heat. It was like walking into a Jurassic unknown. After some time we entered the main open area of the bai and there on our right hand side was a camp nestled on the edge of the bai in the forest.
“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself .”~ Viktor E Frankl
The Lango camp overlooks the Lango bai. The main area is an elevated wooden deck with a large viewing area, spacious dining and a very comfortable open air lounge. The building’s superstructure is made of natural materials with the roof made of interwoven local raffia palm fronds.
These areas in the camp need to be open because the rainforest is hot and humid. The elevated deck catches every passing breeze and in the evenings with a gentle sundowner in hand together gazing over this opening in the forest the experience is magical.
The camp has six separate rooms all connected via elevated wooden deck walkways
These walkways were elevated about 15 foot above the forest floor. This gives you an opportunity to see the resident birds and monkeys.
On several occasions I just stopped on my way to my room or back to the lounge area just to listen and take in all the sounds and the sense of being immersed in the canopy.
Several members of the Lango community came out to greet us. These nimble Guereza Colobus monkeys managed their way through the trees with breathtaking ease, stopping to pick edible leaves and ripe fruit. The forest is bountiful for these vegans.
The Guereza Colobus monkeys were as interested in us as we were in them.
My friend Ann contorting herself on the shoe drying rack to get the shot. After a walking session in the bai we took off our shoes and socks and left them to dry of the rack ready for the next walk in the bai.
After lunch we sat for a while chilling on the deck just gazing out over the bai and watching the world go by. This lone female bushbuck was quietly grazing on this side of the the Lango river when something spooked her and she skipped across the river and disappeared into the bushes on the far side.
I took this next image to illustrate the height of the trees in the forest relative to a forest buffalo bull grazing in the bai opening.
A view of Lango camp from the middle of the bai. The camp has been carefully built so as not to protrude into the bai.
Our group walking in the bai. The game paths that we followed were shallow and under foot the sand was firm compacted by years of nature’s traffic. Interestingly, if you ventured off these pathways you stepped into very soft bog like conditions.
The open bai is an swampy forest clearing which provides not only a gathering ground for animals and birds alike but also provides some important nutritional ingredients for animals and birds.
” It is you, inquisitive, in a wild world that is older than man, seeking greater understanding and finding not only an endless interest but a tranquility that comes, most of the time, to all nature?s wild creatures.” ~ Lee Wulff
I was very interested in seeing flocks of grey parrots and green pigeons which are a feature of the Lango bai.
We were not fortunate enough to see these large flocks of grey parrots land in the bai. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to see this flock of around 1000 wild grey parrots doing what they are supposed to do in the wild. I will never be able to look at a pet grey parrot the same way again.
Only once we were parked in the make-shift hide waiting for the grey parrots to land did Daniella start telling us of the plight of the grey parrots in the Congo Basin. Every year, poachers steal tens of thousands of grey parrot fledgings and chicks from their nests in Africa’s rainforests to meet international demand. Even more disturbing is that only a small fraction of those young grey parrots harvested from their nests survive. This practice started aggressively in the 1990s. The population collapsed as a result. The flocks of a thousand or so grey parrots that you can see flying wild in Odzala today is less than a tenth of what was seen 20 to 30 years ago.
While we only got to see the historically small flocks of grey parrots from a distance, our patience in the hide was rewarded and we were privileged to see a large flock of green pigeons. They landed in the bai to feed on the mineral rich soil for nutrients certain times of the year. This behaviour is called geophagy.
Geophagy has been found in a number of bird species, but its adaptive functions remain much debated. Avian species showing geophagy can be broadly divided into those feeding on grit and those feeding on clay.
There are two main hypotheses as to why birds practice geophagy — the intentional consumption of soil. The first is that clay is a natural detox treatment. Fruit eating birds such as parrots and green pigeons regularly eat seeds and unripe fruits containing alkaloids and other toxins which make the seeds and fruits bitter and even lethal. When food is limited and safer plants are in short supply, clay could help birds eat the more toxic plants that remain. Laboratory experiments have shown that clay could bind to toxins, keeping them out of a bird’s bloodstream.
The second hypothesis is that clay contributes vital minerals that a frugivore’s plant-based diet lacks. Parrot and pigeon geophagy is amply evident in moist tropical forests areas where sodium is flushed from the ecosystem, but retained in hard clay. Sodium is needed for nerve function and muscle contraction.
To see this enormous flock of green pigeons is spellbinding. When not breeding, African green pigeons gather in flocks referred to a passel of pigeons.
While the male and female of many bird species look different, both sexes of the African green pigeon wear the same colourful feathers. The juvenile birds are somewhat duller without the lilac carpal patches.
I only really began to understand why bais and wetlands are so important after watching a video by ornithologist Dr Steve Boyes and his research team who went in search of the source and course of the water that flows into Okavango delta to better understand its sustainability. Only then did I realise the vital role these wetland areas play in the ecosystem. They control floods and act as sponges allowing water to flow consistently long after the rain has stopped. They form a crucial component of the flow control and water purification of the hydrological system of water catchment areas.
These bais also provide an opening in the thick rainforest for animals and birds to gather. This gives researchers and tourists a chance to catch a glimpse beyond the ‘green curtain’ into the lives of the forest dwellers. In this regard, the forest elephants have a vital role to play. They create game trails in the waterways, romantically called “elephant boulevards’. These are paths ways created over hundreds of years. The sand under foot is firm, albeit underwater. If you were to step a metre to one side you would probably sink down to your knees or even deeper in bog like conditions.
Along the rivers and in the bai openings you will frequently see Palm-nut vultures. They have distinctive colouring and red facial skin quite unlike an African Fish eagle. They are large vulturine raptors but what makes them unusual for birds of prey is they feed mainly on the fleshy fruit-husks of the oil-palm and on the palm-fruits. These fruits make up over 60% of the adult bird’s diet. The balance of these diet varies from crabs, molluscs, frogs, fish, locusts, small mammals, even reptiles’ eggs and even carrion.
“To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.” ~ William Blake
The fresh water is continually draining from the bai via the many rivulets and streams. The water in these streams is crystal clear.
Another first for me was seeing a small herd of forest buffalo which ventured out onto the bai to graze on the grasses in the late afternoon.
The African forest buffalo is the smallest subspecies of the African buffalo. Although related to the Cape buffalo, West African savanna buffalo and Central African savanna buffalo, it is much smaller.
The African forest buffalo is distinguished from the other subspecies by its reddish brown hide that is darker in the facial area. The shape and size of their horns are more like water buffalo that African buffalo and they have glamorous ear tuffs.
“My wealth is not measured in how much time I have to do what I want, rather, how much meaning I’m able to derive from the time I have.”
The forest buffaloes rarely venture from the forest into the open areas but they do so to graze on the grasses and sedges in the bai. They also like to wallow in the waterways.
At the end of our first day at Lango camp we were walking back to the wooden jetty which leads via a wooden walk way back to the camp. We had been watching the forest buffalo herd but we noticed they were progressively wandering in our direction. If these were African buffalo we would have got out of there quickly. Our Odzala guide Daniella and Andrew from Wild Eye suggested we stop at the jetty. The light was fading so we decided to sit waist deep in the water next to the jetty and see what the buffaloes did. The next image was of the matriarch who was very inquisitive. She brought the whole herd up to within 10 metres of us. We were very still and quiet and they seemed not to be able to figure out what we were. At no time did any of the forest buffalo show any aggression towards us. After a short while the buffaloes lost interest in us and wandered passed us upstream. During this encounter in the fading light with hot humid temperatures, it was if time stood still. It was a remarkable experience and one which I will never forget.
The more you get to understand the ecology and dynamics of these bais the more fascinating they become. They are a gathering place, a source of vital nutrients and a crucial hydrological feature of the ecology of the rainforest. Best of all they provide us humans get an opportunity to see the rare and unusual wildlife which is normally hidden in the rainforest.
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimension.” ~ Wendell Holmes
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.
Have fun, Mike