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Heart of Africa Expedition: Eagerness to go home prompts very early start to the day

I heard rustling in the leaves around 01h30. Thought maybe it was red river hogs, so got my headlamp ready to spot them. Then I heard the clang of a pot. Somebody is up? Then I heard murmurs, and by 02h00 the campfire was alive with chatter. It was like Christmas morning; the boys were up in anticipation of the return walk. I resisted until they brought me coffee at 03h00, so I got up. What the heck, I thought, I would take advantage of the excitement and get us out of camp before dawn. Everyone was in good spirits, had eaten well the night before, and Felix, even though still acting strange, looked fine. I told them, dudes, it is 60 km further going back than coming, so don’t bust a gut just yet.

We were out of camp by 04h30, all kitted with headlamps. Herve took the lead for the first time on the trip and navigated well. Just after sunrise, Felix had to adjust his baggage, and I realized that he was still more or less out of it. I think a combination of dysentery and its effects with the trauma of being way too far out in the boonies. I gave him two Cipro to calm his runs and made him drink water, which he resisted.

Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

We carried on. Now that we have been on the trail all these days, the vegetation types are obvious. The most beautiful is the Uapaca sp. forest, with the tall trees; you can see for hundreds of meters underneath. There is a tree called Monotes kerstingii that the elephants used to coppice to a couple of meters; now they are all tall trees. Same with the Gardenia sp. bushes that used to be browsed short by giant eland; now they’re huge. We also ran into the cycad again.

March 23 1Some clarification from yesterday. When I say Arab, this is what several different groups here are called. Here they are all black African with fine features, but they are native Arabic speakers. These are tribes who have mixed with Arabs from the north for centuries. They maintain Arab identity.  They are sometimes referred to as the Misseriya, or Baggara Arabs. Then there are the various tribes of herders; generally I call them Fulani or Fulbe. There are the Mbororo, and then the Ouda who come in from Sudan. The relations between these groups has been one of collaboration and competition for many generations, along with the mixture with slaves over the years. One and all participate in the free-for-all on natural resources.

We ran into some fresh waterbuck tracks, just a single individual. Then Herve spied a bushbuck, first one of the trip. In my musings, I was thinking that a walk in Rock Creek Park in Washington D.C. of 300 km, which is about what we’ve done so far, would produce probably 600 or 700 observations of individual deer, without counting the red and grey foxes and raccoons. But then I think the white-tailed deer was extirpated from Virginia before the Civil War, including Washington D.C. The park was established from farmland with funding from the U.S. Congress. In 1984 I think, the deer reappeared and now needs to be culled, in the middle of a city.

The only hope here is management, law and order, a plan, enforcement, and a state with authority. That is the reality of that world of 7.3 billion humans with 10 million new mouths to feed every month. Land that is not managed here in Africa for the most part has no wildlife. The better it is managed, the greater the populations of wildlife. Projects like Chinko can bring not only security for wildlife, but also for people. It can bring management and proper use, rather than devastation, even create sustainable wealth.

Fresh track of waterbuck. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Fresh track of waterbuck. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

We continued with Yaya in the lead. He navigated an absolutely straight SW line for three hours. Felix became almost comically out of it, if it were not so serious. He started talking to himself and his face started to puff up. Then I got paranoid that he was allergic to Cipro. I had to scold him into drinking. So we headed to the Douyou.  We ran into few more tracks of waterbuck and a flock of guinea fowl. Not even any warthogs or baboons today. We called it a day at 11h00. We had already logged 15 km in a straight line, so a full day.

Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

I made Felix lie down, drink salty water, eat and bathe. This evening he is OK again. The dose of Cipro, even if he reacted, seems to have had effect; no more runs and no more puffy face.

Back with the whole team. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Back with the whole team. 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, a 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.

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