January 2012 Elephant Field Journal - Part III
by Mike Loomis
: 5-7 February 2012
5 February 2012
We started hiking at 0800 after our breakfast of beans and bread. We headed southwest of camp. We found a set of fairly fresh elephant tracks and started following them. After about 90 minutes of tracking, we heard sounds in a patch of forest just ahead of us that were consistent with elephants feeding. We started to approach the area, but we did not encounter elephants.
The set of tracks we were following headed downslope to a water point. We followed the tracks for a short time, and then the tracks split into two sets. We followed the set of tracks that headed upslope. The tracks made a large circle and we ended up where we had first heard the sounds of possible elephants feeding earlier.
We decided to follow an elephant trail upslope to a prime Afromomum feeding site. We came across elephant tracks that were around 24 hours old. We followed them for a while, but lost the trail. It did lead to a small mud bath (also known as a potopoto). We headed back in the general direction of camp and arrived at 1540.
Desire made fufu cassava again for dinner. Ignacius, one of our long-term team members, was making a basket from materials he found around camp. I asked him what he would use the basket for when he finished it. He said he was making the basket to keep from being idle in camp. When he finished the basket, he gave it to me! It will be a nice addition to my collection of African artifacts, especially since Ignacius made it.
6 February 2012
We were up a bit earlier than usual this morning. We had breakfast and were on the trail by 0730. Today, we headed for Conservator's Camp. After hiking about 30 minutes, we started finding a large number of wire snares set along the trail. The trail led close to a poacher's camp. We stopped at the camp, which was well organized; it even had crops planted around it. Essoh burned down the camp.
We continued hiking towards Conservator's Camp. At about 0900, we found fresh elephant tracks. We started following the tracks. It appeared that there were four elephants in the group. The tracks split into two groups. We followed the group which stayed on the main trail. Often, when tracks split, they rejoin after a short time. Unfortunately, the tracks did not rejoin, and the tracks we were following were the tracks of a single elephant, most likely a bull. Also, the tracks we were following were headed in the direction of Conservator's Camp. We continued following the tracks to the main water source near Conservator's Camp. At the water source, the tracks mingled with several other sets of tracks, most of which were several weeks old. The trackers lost the tracks of the elephant we were following as they became integrated with the older tracks. The dry conditions made following the tracks difficult.
We continued on to Conservator's Camp, then headed for another water source. There were no fresh elephant tracks around this water source. We stopped for lunch, but had to leave the area around the water because there were a large number of bees pestering us. We decided to head back to where the tracks had split. We saw a troop of mona monkeys along the trail. We reached the spot where the tracks split. The other set of tracks headed downslope. The elephants had a significant head start on us, and it was getting late, so we decided to head back to camp.
On the way, we stopped at the poacher's camp we had burned in the morning. It did not completely burn, so Essoh and several of the other team members dismantled the materials that did not burn, stacked them together and burned the stack. The poachers had planted huckleberry around the camp, so some of the guys picked the huckleberries, took them back to camp and cooked them for dinner. We arrived back at camp at 1640. We hiked a little more than 10 kilometers today.
7 February 2012
We hiked east of camp towards the place where we may have heard elephants feeding on 5 February. We followed the tracks from 5 February downslope. The tracks we were following crossed a set of fresh elephant tracks that we started following. The tracks contoured across the slope to a water source and then headed upslope.
After following the tracks for 45 minutes, the trackers decided that the tracks were not fresh enough to follow. We hiked back through camp heading west towards Conservator's Camp. We came to the place where the tracks from yesterday split, so we followed tracks downslope for awhile, hoping to find fresh elephant tracks. It was getting too late to continue following the tracks. We did not find any fresh elephant signs after about an hour and headed back towards camp.
On the way to camp, Dickson stepped close to a gaboon viper that struck at him. Fortunately, the strike missed Dickson by about a foot, but it was still a bit unnerving. We have seen many gaboon vipers over the years, but this is the first one that has struck at any of us. We arrived back at camp at 1650.
: 8-9 February 2012
Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4
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