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Latest News

The rainiest month is upon us and today it rained lightly twice with the sun shining through. The humidity is about 100% today without the rain making for a very uncomfortable environment.

Lots of happenings here at present. A large film crew has been working on a feature film for the last three months. This is the second time this has happened in the area. In 1986 or thereabouts there was another feature film made by a French crew the area featuring the local Bayaka population, this time will undoubtedly be better. The Bayaka are natural actors and are much more at ease in front of the camera.

The disheartening news is another poaching incident in the neighboring research camp which is devoted to Western Lowland Gorilla habituation. It is reported that at least two elephants were killed last week. Poachers were arrested and an arm confiscated but the main culprit who was arrested with the others escaped. He is well known for his elephant poaching activities and has been arrested before. Recidivism is the rule for elephant poachers who are usually well protected by people in powerful places. This worrisome since if the poaching is taking place in proximity to research camps I hate to think what the poaching is like beyond the range of our hearing. As the animals are being compressed into the national park area poaching will undoubtedly increase in the coming years.

Elephants are perceived here as destructive dangerous animals. Here on the ground we have had few negative experiences with elephants. We pay close attention when we happen upon them in the forest to and from the bai and there have been only a handful of times when I felt there was a real danger. On our return home in the evening we often encounter bulls in the river who sometimes contest our presence. Below is an example of what happens when one bull elephant doesn’t wish to give up his mineral spot in the river in the late afternoon. The person in the foreground is Azobe, one of the crack trackers/assistants who is fearless and has assured my safety for many years.

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Thanks

First off I would like to thank the following people for kindly donating to our work here. As I said before it is these donations which make the work possible to continue here. So thanks to Muriel T., Antonio C, and one “anonymous.” The money will go directly to maintaining work on conserving forest elephants.

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This week the clearing has been very calm with the increased anti poaching activity in the area. The area outside of the bai has always been under pressure from hunting so now at least there ia a bit of a reprieve for this area. During the months of April and May there have been an increase in the number of bongo we have been seeing and during about ten days we were seeing more than 30 each day. They sit and ruminate at the far end of clearing in a big group for most of the afternoon and are occasionally chased or challenged by elephants. Among the group were two male bongos who would spend time in close proximity sitting in a puddle together.

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Bongo Adult Female and Calves

Good News

Good news to report…. During the last week there has been a big military operation to rid this area of elephant poachers. As was written in several previous blogs the elephant poaching had been escalating and for the first time in 18 years elephants were shot in the Dzanga clearing.

This resulted in the central government sending a military contingent to deal with the problem and so far the results have been encouraging with a few of the worst poachers being apprehended and sent off to prison. The operation is continuing and will last for 20 days and hopefully there will be follow up in the future.

So I commend the Central African government for this support of conservation in this part of the country. I’ve spoken to a few of the people involved and they are encouraged by the results thus far achieved. Many of them have been involved in antipoaching operations in the north of the country where the situation is much different.

Meanwhile the Dzanga Clearing has been calm and we have been seeing about 60 elephants a day. A few new borns have been recorded in the last month and the number of larger males has dropped off. For the last two days we have been observing Tim, a younger male who is in musth. The last time I saw him was in 2004. For the last two days he has been in the bai looking for receptive females but has little luck, he also is spending his time discouraging any potential competition out of the bai.

One of the newest calves belongs to Tess III, who makes up part of a well know group at the bai. Her sister Tess II has two calves so with the new addition this family group totals now 5.

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Tess III & her newborn son

So from a part of the world rife with bad news there is a glimmer of hope for the wildlife here. For those of us on the ground this is a bit of encouragement so we will persevere.

Forest Clearings or Bais

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Dzanga Bai: Southern End

The Dzanga clearing is often referred to as Dzanga bai, bai being the local Bayaka word for forest clearing. These clearings are numerous in this part of the Congo Basin and where they are protected from poachers and other human activity attract wildlife providing the best “window” in the forest. Bais are usually found along rivers and vary in surface area. The main attraction to wildlife is the availability of mineral salts which lie beneath the surface of these clearings. The minerals are accessed in several ways, one being by excavation, elephants being the most adept at this. They use their feet like shovels kicking away surface soil creating huge holes which expose the mineral layer. The other way elephants access the minerals is by pumping with their trunks through the surface water to the mineral layer. This in the more difficult way of getting minerals and since the biggest males dominate the best mineral holes, females and their offspring as well as younger males are observed vigorously pumping through the water in search of minerals. During the wetter parts of the years when it is impossible to dig big holes in the bai because of the continuous rain, fewer males are observed in the bai. I tend to think for the large males pumping through the surface water is difficult because their long tusks get in the way.Bongo love.JPG

Bongo Male and Female

Elephants are the dominant animals at Dzanga bai but other species of forest mammals are also observed on a regular basis. After elephant the most commonly observed species is the sitatunga, a species of forest antelope which prefers the wetter parts of the forest. The females are reddish in color while the adult males are a chocolate brown. The most spectacular species is the bongo, the largest species of forest antelope. They are observed in groups ranging from six to thirty individuals and are made up of females and their offspring. Males are seen periodically in the groups looking for estrous females. We also observe the two species of forest pigs: giant forest hog and the red river hog. They also are observed in the clearing where they skirt the edges avoiding the elephants. The pig species serve as the main scavengers in the forest and we have observed them feeding on elephant carcasses.

Bais not only serve the nutritional needs of animals but also serve as centers of social activitiy for forest animals. At Dzanga we witness a myriad of social behavior which is otherwise impossible to observe in the forest environment.

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Forest Buffalo

Dzanga Bai in Central African Republic

Hello everyone. I’m Andrea Turkalo and I have been working in the Central African Republic for the last 25 years and involved on a variety of wildlife studies including savannah elephants, western lowland gorillas and for the past seventeen years on forest elephants. Conservation of wildlife is my passion and I hope that my work is making a difference in the future of animals in this part of the world.

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The Dzanga Forest Elephant Study now in its seventeenth year is the longest ongoing study of forest elephants, Loxodonta cyclotis. We have identified over 3000 elephants and are following their daily lives at the Dzanga Clearing in the Central African Republic.

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The Dzanga Clearing in the Central African Republic attracts more forest elephants than any other clearing in the Central Africa region. On any day, we see between forty and one hundred elephants. Elephants are present in this clearing 24 hours a day and are attracted to the area by the availability of mineral salts, which are found below the surface of the clearing.

 

Elephants spent most of their time in the bai digging in search of this mineral layer. The biggest males dig most of these holes and spend a lot of their time competing for the better holes. Female access the minerals by pumping down through the surface water of the clearing with their trunks to the minerals. During the dry season, the surface of the clearing is drier and the elephants dig more holes making minerals available to more animals, which also include forest buffalo, bongo, giant forest hog and red river hogs.

 

It is now the beginning of the dry season and animal activity is quickly picking up in the bai. With the advent of the dry season, we are seeing more individuals than throughout the rest of the year. This is also the height of mating season and the bigger males who have been absent for most of the year will now reappear in the bai looking for potential mates.

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Today we observed over one hundred elephants in the clearing, which included many family groups and about seven large males. The males spent most of the afternoon waiting for the biggest male, Malek, who dominated the biggest hole in the bai, to vacate the hole therefore giving the other elephants a chance to partake of the best mineral site

 

The biggest surprise of the afternoon was the appearance of an adult female with two offspring who I first thought I had never seen before. Her ears were clearly marked with a sizeable hole in her left ear. Upon returning to camp, I looked through my identity cards to see if I had ever seen this female and sure enough, I found her, her name being Fenena. The first time I first identified her was in 1994, and then saw her two more times in January and February of 1998. The last time I saw her in 1998 had two offspring both males. Today she was accompanied by two offspring, a sub adult and juvenile female with no sign of any males. The males have left the group and are now on their own. This is the most interesting part of the observations at Dzanga: the appearance of individuals who have not been seen for long periods. We wonder where they have gone, what they have experienced and seen. This is also what keeps us here, teasing out the relationships and witnessing one of the most exciting wildlife sites in the Central African region.