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Found: A landscape ready for rewilding in the Heart of Africa

 

Last night there was a leopard vocalizing not too far from camp; first of the trip. The herders poison them for the skins, so their numbers are low.

My turn for the squirts today. Yaya gave me a piece of two-day-old, half-cooked catfish which I almost stopped eating when I spied fly eggs on it. But I figured they were dry and hadn’t become maggots, and kept eating. Mistake.  I, too, took a Cipro tab.

The nice thing about leaving camp at 05h00 is that it is the same time as the morning chorus of birds. This morning we also had baboons and black-and-white colobus joining the wake-up call. We are thus already walking when humans should be out. It is interesting that, when I am in the bush, almost immediately I start going to bed at 20h00 and I’m  up at 04h00; still 8 hours of sleep, outside 24/7, feet touching the Earth, naturally.

It rained for the first time, a bit last night, lots to the northeast from the sound of it. So walking, the leaves were wet, no crackling, and the soil was prepped to see fresh tracks. There was no sign of any cattle or burros having passed through in the past weeks. We counted a single pile of recent bushbuck dung, and saw a nice flock of guinea fowl early on. They are eating almost exclusively grass seeds and termites right now.

Crossing a lando. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Crossing a lando. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Isoberlinia forest. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Isoberlinia forest. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

As we cross the landscape, I am snapping pictures of the various vegetation types, and thinking about restoring this place. Compared to endless places around the world, I thought this place is like a city for animals that is completely equipped: the water and lights work, the buildings are in place, it just lacks the wildlife. I think about old sheep farms in South Africa, where they remove the sheep, restore the vegetation and watersheds, and bring back every species of large mammal that existed there before. Here, compared to the millions of hectares already restored in South Africa, this place is a piece of cake. The savanna, its forest, grass cover, creeks and rivers, and the remnants of fauna are all here.

Dried mud hole. Still only tracks of pig to be seen. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Dried mud hole. Still only tracks of pig to be seen. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Ground barren of large animal tracks. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Ground barren of large animal tracks. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

A few hours in, we hit a tree that had been cut down for browse for the sheep and goats, and Herve said he heard cattle off to the west. We crossed paths with three groups of baboons; no warthog or red river hogs on the trek.

We traveled another 10 km in a straight line for a total of 16; just that one sighting of recent bushbuck dung in the wild antelope category, except for the habitual duiker dung.

Felix taking a break. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Felix taking a break. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

We reached the Chinko and we could see water levels have gone up here. I plunged into the fresh water right away; best when you are super hot. This is the first fresh water in the system for months. I am struck by the fact that this is just one site in thousands just along this river, and it is exquisite, has tons of habitat. A wild paradise.

Widening Chinko. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Widening Chinko. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

Once we settled in, we had some tea and then we could hear blood-curdling screaming from upstream. Quickly, we figured out it was a pig. Yaya said it got grabbed by a crocodile. I headed upstream with Herve, and about 200 m up spotted a nice male warthog. I thought: poor guy, just lost a mate. Then his mate showed up. No sign of a fight at the river; I think [what we heard] was more like love making. We had the habitual baboons greet us.

Excursion with Herve to teach him GPS navigation. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Excursion with Herve to teach him GPS navigation. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

At 16h00 I took a stroll with Herve. I am showing him how to navigate with a GPS. He is plenty intelligent, but has never been to school. We found more very old eland dung, three piles of it. I was looking at the average sighting distance here, maybe 200 m. So you figure 400 m x 300 km, it comes to 12,000 hectares we have viewed, and not a single viewing of a large antelope. I don’t even think about seeing buffalo.

Fresh bee tree-cut. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Fresh bee tree-cut. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Honey extracted. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
Honey extracted. Photograph by J. Michael Fay.

We saw a tree cut by the herders, and Herve expressed his disdain. He said, “they take all the wildlife, the bees, and now the trees, tout, tout, tout, tout”. He is an elephant hunter, but has been with the Chinko Project for a few years now. While he blames only the Sudanese herders and poachers for the demise of this place, he gets it.

Photograph by J. Michael Fay.
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 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.

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