Africa explorer-conservationist J. Michael Fay is in the Central African Republic for the next six weeks, completing an expedition he started in 2014, when he retraced as best he could the footsteps of the 19th Century American Game Hunter-Explorer William Stamps Cherry. Fay, a former National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and recipient of numerous National Geographic Society grants, has also worked for decades for the Wildlife Conservation Society. His transects through some of Africa’s most remote and inaccessible wildernesses (among them the National Geographic-sponsored Megatransect and Meglaflyover) rank among the most significant in the history of exploration of the continent.
We camped out with the Chinko Project Team. They left us at the confluence of the Chinko and the Mboutou. This is as far as the dirt track leads, from there to the South Sudan border it is foot only.
We were walking by 06h20. We crossed the Mboutou and an hour later we crossed the Chinko. The vegetation has been completely burned and it gets hot real fast. The trails from here out are from the massive numbers of cows that come into this area to graze in the dry season from Sudan.
Thirty years ago, this place was full of elephants and a vast array of savanna wildlife species, including the giant eland and roan antelope. This is in stark contrast to the Chinko Project area that we drove through yesterday, where except right at the end we were seeing giant eland, buffalo and roan tracks pretty much exclusively. This place has only been really protected for a few years now, no small feat in the Central African Republic and it is already showing signs of recovery.
I have a team of three guys with me who are carrying sacks of at least 60 lbs apiece. We have one guy named Yaya with us who is of Fulani origin from Chad and he speaks Sudanese Arabic, which will help a lot. The other two guys, Herve a Zande and Félix an Nzakara, are of tribes centered in Zemia and Bangassou to our south. The last two walked with me two years ago. (Read all my earlier posts.)
They were chugging along but we were having to rest every quarter mile or so. We passed through a nomad camp that had been abandoned yesterday. There were a few warthogs eating the cow dung. The trash was a pack of tea from Sudan and boxes from injectable medicine for the cows. A bit further on in a small forest we saw a group of about 15 black-and-white colobus monkeys.
Our goal today was to travel 10 km in a straight line. I didn’t think the guys could make it any further without risk of injury. We followed cattle trails on the east side of the Chinko. The landscape is totally dominated by cattle, sheep and herders. During Cherry’s time there would not have been a single cow here. There are tse tse flies, and without modern medicine they would jut die.
The guys saw some red river hogs and I saw some more colobus monkeys. Resting, we could hear some movement in the woods. Yaya, said Bagara, cows. They were feeding to the south of us. We didn’t make an attempt to meet the herders; best to meet as few people as possible here. If we can avoid them we will.
Around 14h00 we hit the Chinko again. It is not flowing, just a series of pools. I tried a bit of fly-fishing, but there are very few fish in the water. I caught a single small carp species. Later on there was movement on the far bank. The guys whistled for me to look. It was a giant forest hog. These pigs are grazers and they are huge. This boy probably was over 500 lbs. He was alone.
We had a dinner of soggy rice and a tin of sardines each, washed down with tea made from the stagnant river water. Pretty much what we will be eating from here out. I told the guys to eat a lot for the first days to at least give the impression that the loads are getting lighter. They asked me for medicine. I gave each an Ibuprofen.
So today we saw the three species of pigs that we get here and the colobus monkeys. None of these species are eaten by the Muslim herders, which is why they are really the only thing left. Hitting the hay early tonight, the guys are beat, so am I, the heat takes it out of you. The frogs are croaking on the river. Almost a full moon. All and all a good first day on the trail.
Africa explorer-conservationist J. Michael Fay is in the Central African Republic, completing an expedition he started in 2014, retracing as best he can the footsteps of the 19th Century American Game Hunter-Explorer William Stamps Cherry. Fay, a former National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and recipient of numerous National Geographic Society grants, has also worked for decades for the Wildlife Conservation Society. His transects through some of Africa’s most remote and inaccessible wildernesses (among them the National Geographic-sponsored Megatransect and Meglaflyover) rank among the most significant in the history of exploration of the continent. You can read all his dispatches at Expedition Through the Heart of Africa.