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Heart of Africa Expedition diverts southward because of lack of water

Félix and I got out of camp at 05h00 and started the walk as far as we could get to the border before the water ran out. There is a major tributary of the Douyou that was our best bet. We headed east then northeast.

Lando coming back to life. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Lando coming back to life. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Combretum forest. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Combretum forest. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Mud holes from dry season with pic tracks. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Mud holes from dry season with pic tracks. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

bone dry 4For the first hours, going was pretty easy. We saw some warthogs and baboons and passed through several different vegetation types. There was very little sign of cattle or burros. There were quite a few open plains, but as always they were populated by high numbers of pig tracks and dung, a mix of warthogs and red river hogs. In some places, yesterday’s elephant trails are today’s pig trails, running along the watercourses.

Around 10h00 we started picking up lots of cattle trails running north-south with mostly southerly movement. Looking at the map, this meant that these groups were coming down the Douyou and then continuing south. Most of the movement was at least a month old, and a lot when there was still mud, so these guys came through when water levels were considerably higher. This is the big dilemma of these herders, when to move south because water is high, and especially when to move north as rivers fill and it can become impossible to cross, leaving you and your cattle stranded for the wet season. Not a pleasant prospect for these guys.

By about 11h00 and 18 km upstream, we hit the destination creek, having left the Douyou on its northward path. Well, it was bone dry. Like the soil had no indication of moisture. We walked about a kilometer of river bed, no joy. We knew we would run out of water at some point. In fact, some water we used this morning had a real high suspended-solution of gunk and mud.  Anyway, no sense in moving forward with no water, so we crossed the river and headed east toward the Douyou.  We made a cup of tea with the last of my water.  Felix pulled a bottle out of his backpack.  I said how old is that.  He said a few days.  I say it must be putrid.  He said no its fine.  I smelled the bottle, it was, just like I thought, extremely putrid.

Trypanosome medicine. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Trypanosome medicine. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Fresh human footprint in fresh burn. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Fresh human footprint in fresh burn. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Fresh cattle dung. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Fresh cattle dung. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

We crossed the same cattle trails we had seen further to the south. We encountered a couple of camps with same old stuff, medicine and tea packaging and odd bit of plastic. Not too far away, we encountered the mummified remains of a warthog.

Warthog probably poisoned by herders to use as bait for lions and leopards. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Warthog probably poisoned by herders to use as bait for lions and leopards. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Honey tree felled by herders. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Honey tree felled by herders. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

It seems, maybe, the herders kill warthogs just for the fun it. It was untouched since it died; not even any scavengers to pick the carcass. These herders use poison to kill predators and it ends up killing all the scavengers as well, which is one reason for the demise of the vulture here.  Felix said that they would kill it and put poison in it to kill lions and leopards, for the skins.

During the peak of elephant poaching in the 1980s, we used to think there were too many lions and scavengers because of the abundance of fresh meat about. The poachers never used the meat.

bine dry 6
Satellite view of location of the campsite.
Even the Chinko is almost empty up here. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Even the Chinko is almost empty up here. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

We reached the Douyou, and even it had only the occasional very dense water puddle. Certainly, it too would run out of water a few km further upstream. Félix made us tea and we had a troop of baboons come by to greet us. They love to make gestures to humans and get a response.

Just like that, we are on the road of return. We will rejoin Herve and Yaya tomorrow and make a circuitous path back to base.

Feet are holding up. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Feet are holding up. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

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, aNational 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.