For those 30,000 of you who speak Aka, you already know a Bai (pronounced “by”) is a natural forest clearing where animals come to socialize, eat, drink, and get minerals from the muddy pools while avoiding crocs. Essentially it’s the Applebees of the jungle. The concentration of wildlife in bais make them a great place for doing research (and for tourism). Though given the sheer remoteness of Nouabalé, the two of us accounted for 50-100% of the tourist population in a nearly 1500 square mile park.In our last post, Welcome to the jungle, we had settled in Bomassa for the night. Nouabalé-Ndoki park headquarters is based in Bomassa, and we got to learn more about the park and its wildlife from some of the researchers over dinner.
The next morning, we started off bright and early to hitch a ride with some researchers on an hour long drive into the park. Almost immediately we got some wildlife viewing with a solitary gorilla and a family of giant forest hog hanging out in the road.The research director told us we were incredibly lucky and that “researchers are here for months and years and never see anything like this” as she got out to take dung samples. Our good fortune continued throughout our stay.The original plan was to stay near the Bai at Mbeli camp, but a trouble making elephant nicknamed Bart had been wrecking havoc there. He removed the roof of the tourist huts because he enjoyed eating clothes and bars of soap. Plan B was a camp further away at Ndoki which involved an hour long pirogue ride, oared by Ba’aka (the indigenous people of the area), followed by a 45 minute hike to the bai twice a day.This Bart driven turn of events proved fortunate, as our pirogue and forest walks were quite eventful! We saw a horde of red river hog, a few blue duiker (like deer), a couple different monkey groups, and some partridge. Thank you Bart, for your incorrigibility.Over the two days at the Bai viewing platform our luck continued. We saw five elephants, which interestingly are numbered instead of named, unlike gorilla which are given kooky names with a theme for each group. We were hoping these two elephants, finding themselves at the Bai at the same time, would interact more, but they just looked at each other and sprayed some water around.We saw a total of six gorilla families (George, Conan, Morpheus, Bomba, Saha, and Stockwell) plus 2 solitary silverbacks (Louie and Lyle). This was a boon for Marie and Valerie, the researchers, as they furiously took notes and recorded behaviors. After the dust had settled, Valerie and Marie pointed out and identified the gorilla groups and told us a lot of interesting gorilla information, such as the complicated soap opera of their family lives. Apparently George is starting a commune and Louie needs a woman… bad.Louie creeping on elephant #118.The resident fish eagle.A group of black and white colobus monkeys descended from the trees to feast on bugs and the delicious algae in the Bai. They jumped around.We also were visited by some lizards and innumerable sweat bees (fly-like insects which are attracted to sweat, conjunctiva, nostrils, and are the most irritating things ever). Jesse endured the full swarmy wrath of the sweat bees. Often his sunglasses would be coated in the bastards. The researchers were more Zen about the bees, and some could even be still as they obliviously allowed the insects to crawl across their open eyes. We are not there yet, especially Jen.After a full day viewing the playful and social gorillas from afar, we had a reality check on the way home from the Bai – A close encounter with a gorilla on the pirogue. Imagine, you are in an unstable dugout log, with Ba’aka standing fore and aft. They point out some freshly gnawed water plants and gently whisper “gorilla”, instantly followed by a ferocious bellowing roar from feet away.Here we are with our trackers, Fils and Nakoue. They had supernatural powers spotting and tracking animals randomly in the forest. Next up… the trials and tribulations of jungle living, and gorilla tracking