Eagles and Egrets...Sticking with a Strategy
by Mike Loomis
March 29, 2002
6:30AM EST/12:30PM Cameroon
Since we haven't had much luck in the last few days, we decided to change our strategy a bit on Thursday afternoon and visit a bai about 4 kilometers from Ndangaye Bai, where we've been working recently.
Unfortunately, with all the rain the Lobeke River has risen more than two feet and flooded in some places. That made the trail between the bais very treacherous; it's wet and muddy everywhere, and underwater in some places. Overall the hike over to the other bai was very difficult, though it was sunny and a cool breeze kept the insects down.
We saw a nice sight in the new bai: a young fish eagle was hunting egrets. He was gracefully chasing egrets down to the ground. However, being young, he didn't know what to do with them once he got them on the ground. So, everytime he had an egret, he would let it go and take off after another. It was very entertaining, and I'm sure the fish eagle will figure it all out sometime soon.
No elephants on the bai yesterday afternoon, so we went back to camp and ate that big electric catfish. It was very good--cooked in a tomato sauce.
We planned to get up early this morning and hit the bai first thing. By 5:30AM, though, the only people up were me and Michael. Once we rousted the others, they insisted on having breakfast before going out to the bai, so we were still stuck in camp at 7:30AM. Around that time, Joseph (who was monitoring the bai) came into camp to let us know that three elephants were in the bai. We basically ran to the bai; the elephants had taken off by then, but we knew they only had about a thirty-minute head start. We followed them for about ninety minutes and caught up with them; once again, though, the vegetation was so thick that we couldn't get in range. Plus, they smelled us or detected us in some other way, which also kept them at a distance from us.
On the way back to camp we found yet another set of fresh tracks. We followed those for over an hour, with basically the same outcome. That is, we caught up with the elephants, but were prevented by heavy vegetation from getting a shot off.
We came back to camp at noon feeling both frustrated and hopeful because of our close calls. After some discussion, we have decided to choose one strategy and stick with it, so we'll be staying in Ndangaye Bai until we either get an elephant or until April 2, whichever comes first.
Despite the frustration about getting oh-so-close to several elephants with nothing to show for it, I have to say that I'm having a great time camping, hiking, and just being out in the rainforest. It's great to see the variety of wildlife, to be out in such a unique environment--even though it's such hard and (sometimes) frustrating work.
About the author:
Dr. Mike Loomis is Chief Veterinarian at the North Carolina
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