News from the Forest

Again apologies for the lack of blogs. Since the last post in late 2009 I visited Gabon with a film crew and experienced a much different environment for forest elephants. The Gabonese elephants appeared to be smaller in stature and a more cyclotis or forest form of elephants. Compared to the Dzanga elephants they were more uniform in morphology or shape. The highlight of the trip was watching several sizable bulls cross rivers by snorkling across. They would approach the river bank, plop themselves in the river and then snorkle across doing an elephant dog paddle. We anticipated their crossing and were able to witness them close by in a boat while filming. At one point all we could see was a portion of the trunk as the elephant swam effortlessly to the other side of the river. This was all beautifully captured in the BBC film “Rumble in the Jungle.”

Back at Dzanga there was another poaching incident at the beginning of February. As usual we heard the shot at 18:30 just after nightfall. There was some moon so the poachers were taking advantage of the ambient night light. The local guard patrol ran to my camp and we then used the HF radio to contact the park headquarters 12 kilometers away to call in reinforcements. The guard patrol then headed off to the clearing, a brave feat considering the high numbers of elephants between the camp and Dzanga. Thirty minutes later there was a lot of gun fire with reports of a high caliber rifle belonging to the poachers and AK 47s belonging to the guards. All I could think of were possible casualties.

The reinforcements arrived in record time, about 40 minutes after the radio call. Another group of guards arrived and also headed off to the clearing after I explained what had happened. They then headed off into the dark and again we heard gunshots, again an interchange. Then the first guard patrol returned to camp, they had run out of ammunition and said that as they were approaching the clearing they could hear the poachers chopping out the tusks of the elephant. We awaited the return of the second guard group who returned about an hour later. Despite the effort the tusks were efficiently chopped out by the poachers who fled into the darkness.

We are certain of the identity of the perps, a well organized group with a ringleader well known to all of us. He is Central African but has taken up residence down river in a town in Cameroon from where he is well protected and observed often.

The next day I went to the clearing to inspect the carcass and to see if I could identify the victim. As I walked through the forest my mind was racing about possible casualties, individuals I had observed during the week. A few of the bigger tuskers like Pom and Menelaus came to mind. I was anticipating the worst. Once we arrived the carcass was clearly in sight situated directly across from the observation platform planted in the favorite mineral hole this dry season. No other elephants were presence due to all the nocturnal commotion. We crossed to the far side of the bai to look at the dead elephant. The front of the face had been chopped out in order to quickly pull out the tusks. So with nothing of the face left there was nothing to identify. With all the time I have observed elephants many of them I can identify just by looking at their faces but no in this case. He was lying on his left side so only his right ear was visible and this we inspected for signs by which we could identify him but there were only two very small holes and this also didn’t lead to identification.

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Elephant Carcass

After barely two weeks there was nothing left of the carcass except the bones and crumpled skin. We saw little interaction between the elephants and their fallen brethern. The giant forest hogs fed on the carcass until there was nothing left. Now the bones are being scattered around with a visible part of the vertebrae being the farthest removed.

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Poached Elephant Head

Poaching here is on the increase with at least six carcasses being reported during January In the Ndoki Dzanga National Park and the neighboring Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in Congo. The news from elsewhere isn’t any better with elephants under siege in many other sites in the Central African region.

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Guards and Elephant Carcass

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