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Author Topic: To the Lungs of the Earth  (Read 17074 times)

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Offline Kaboef

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Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
« Reply #140 on: May 05, 2020, 08:35:33 am »
The photos make me think of all the Tarzan books I've read as a boy.

The dark heart of Africa.

What an experience!

And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, "O Lord, bless this thy hand grenade, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy."


Offline FIXER

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Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
« Reply #141 on: May 08, 2020, 12:22:34 pm »
Uitstekend en baie dankie vir die moeite. To be able to do a trip like this, and with your wife as a companion! Really something special, on so many levels.
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Offline NiteOwl

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« Reply #142 on: May 12, 2020, 03:19:16 am »
Apart from offering sightseeing trips into the Reserve, the Lodge also runs a rehabilitation program for injured animals and birds confiscated from poachers or saved from the bushmeat trade. Maja is the (Swiss) veterinarian in charge of this, and she is assisted by Komo (a pygmy from the local community). One of these animal species has been the prime motivator for us to make this long trip:

This is a young black-bellied pangolin (ietermagog), whose mother was a victim of the bushmeat trade. She wasn't well when she was brought to Sangha Lodge, so she is being nursed here until she is ready for release back into the forest.

Most of the rescuees are pangolins; the most trafficked animals on earth. They cannot harm anyone as they have no teeth, but get hunted for their scales, which consist of keratin- like rhino horns. The market is the same; potions in Asia to heal ....what exactly?

As if the slaughter of these poor creatures for their scales is not enough, the meat is also traded as a delicacy. Since pangolins are endangered as a result, any trade in them is illegal. It's not a very successful ban, however, and confiscations occur too late.

There are eight pangolin species in the world (all threatened), of which four occur in Africa.

The most common of these in this region is the black-bellied pangolin, the only specialised arboreal (tree climbing) pangolin. They grow to a length of about 70 cm and weigh up to 2 kilograms. Pangolins have super-long, sticky tongues which they extend to pick up ants and termites.

Pangolins are solitary creatures, and little is known about them because most species are nocturnal. The black tailed species are active by day and night, but are difficult to observe through the dense foliage. In order to get warm, they climb to the top of the tree canopy early in the morning to bask in the sun before looking for breakfast.

They have an exceptionally long tail that they use almost like monkeys to climb trees. Or stairs.

Pangolins are really difficult to look after in captivity- their diet consist exclusively of ants and termites, and collecting enough to feed them is no easy task, so at Sangha Lodge they are kept in an enclosed area at night and released into trees during the day to feed, where they are tracked by Ba'Aka pygmies. They catch ants by pushing their sticky tongues into ant-nests that they break open with their claws. Their scales grow out of their skin almost like our hair does (only in flat bunches) which protects them from predators. When threatened, they roll up into a ball to hide the only part of their body that is unprotected- their bellies.

Here's what a scale looks like from close up:

Although they may look like reptiles, pangolins are actually mammals. The females have two teats from which their young suckle, and they carry the baby around on their tails. Although their scales protect them from predators, they also provide a hiding place for parasites: ticks, to be specific. Part of the task of rehabilitating pangolins therefore involves removing these ticks. It's done with tweezers.

It's a time-consuming process which has to be done in short stages to avoid stressing the animal.

All done for the day!

After the cleanup, this youngster gets carried into the forest and put onto a tree trunk, which she scales with surprising agility.

Later in the day Maja takes us for a walk into the forest nearby with two trackers to show off her released charges that are now fending for themselves. It happens to be butterfly season, and we disturb clouds of them drinking from the puddles in the muddy tracks leading to the lodge.

On the forest floor, army ants move along a track. Their soldiers are the largest ants on earth and they do not nest but move constantly, consuming vast quantities of insects in their path. Due to their numbers and aggressive behaviour, they can be dangerous even to larger mammals, and are not part of a pangolin's diet.

Ba'Aka trackers are employed to follow the pangolins and make notes of their observations. Reaching them through the dense growth takes quite some ducking and diving.

One of the tracked pangolins is resting on one of the lower branches of a tree, where it's pretty dark.

Another one is looking for food high up in the canopy, using his tail as counterbalance:

Unlike the WCS camp at Bomassa, Sangha Lodge's rehabilitation effort is privately run, without the support of a major sponsor and they rely on scientists who are prepared to support the programme on a voluntary basis in exchange for the unique research opportunity.

In order to attract more visitors, there's a significant upgrade project on the go. Bas has been hired to coordinate the construction project. On the one end the pub and dining area are getting expanded ...

... while at the other new chalets are under construction. With all those trees around, wood is the cheapest and most authentic building material, but cement for foundations and interior fittings have to be brought in from Cameroon- no Builders Warehouse around the corner here.

The new design is more upmarket, to meet the expectation of European visitors. There's also a verandah overlooking the river, and a much better all-round view through the mosquito netting.

All good things come to an end, and our stay at Sangha is no exception. Because Bas also needs to get back home (his family lives in Zambia) he is joining us on the return trip, together with Alon, who has to collect a vehicle in Ouesso. Blaise is again at the controls.

Needless to say, we have to repeat all the passport rubber stamping (and associated payments) of the "up" trip. We pass Doli Lodge, a similar establishment to Sangha, on the way to our first stop at Bayanga.

Bas has made himself at home on the bow of the boat, enjoying the sunshine. It's out of necessity too; his toolboxes fill much of the space in the boat that isn't taken up with fuel and water.

The trees lining the river make for a spectacular and memorable panorama as we pass. And yes, those are rainclouds darkening the sky.

It does not take long before our path crosses the curtain of rain bucketing down. There's a scramble to cover the luggage and peel out raincoats and it gets pretty cool. The rain stops as suddenly as it started.

Despite the fact that we are now moving downstream, our speed is only 15 km/h due to the extra passengers, luggage and fuel. It's slow going, made worse by the extra care now required to avoid the sandbanks.

The trip takes the entire day, and we only reach the WCS camp at dusk. Fortunately for us, the visitors they were expecting have been delayed, and there's accommodation available for all of us for the night. My dreams are filled with the gurgling of a 40 HP outboard motor.
« Last Edit: May 12, 2020, 10:23:54 am by NiteOwl »
Do it before you die!

Offline Tom van Brits

Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
« Reply #143 on: May 12, 2020, 04:13:09 am »
Amazing, so grateful for people taking conservation at heart

Offline RobLH

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Re: To the Lungs of the Earth
« Reply #144 on: May 12, 2020, 08:13:20 am »
This really is an incredible report and opportunity you had, thank you for posting.