A Long Hike in to Boumba Bek
by Mike Loomis
April 5, 2003
We finally arrived in our base camp last night. It turned out to be a thirty-mile hike—and all we've done for the last two days is hike, mostly through very thick primary forest. Friday's hike was especially hard, as we expected to go only about three hours but ended up hiking for about eight.
There was a brief but intense thunderstorm on Thursday, but luckily for us it began just as we reached a World Wildlife Fund shelter (which that group had set up for its ecological monitoring team in the region). It settled in to a slow, steady rain the rest of the day. We managed to keep our equipment dry; some had already been packed in dry bags, and some we simply covered.
I have not traveled extensively in Boumba Bek National Park before, so I saw a number of new and unusual things. First are some very unusual clearings in the otherwise dense forest. Unlike bais, which are low-lying marshy areas, these sites are higher-elevation and very rocky; they are, however, very green and lush during the wet season (as it is now). I'll be curious to see if elephants use the at all, and I'll also be curious to learn what they are called in the local language. Apparently they are quite common in this region.
We went through three such clearings while hiking during the last three days. In the second clearing, we saw a large herd of forest buffalo. Nearby, we found an active poachers' camp. None of the poachers were around, but they were smoking elephant meat on a fire—that is, curing it so that they could store it without refrigerating it. We moved into the camp and destroyed it, but never did see any poachers. Later in the day we saw a troop of chimpanzees.
We are now set up in a camp near a bai on the Bek River (I am still struck by the size and swiftness of the Bek, I had no idea it was such a significant river). There is a series of several bais in the region, and any of them could be home to our next elephant. We have already seen a number of fresh elephant tracks, so I think we stand a good chance of getting an elephant collared here.
We got a late start today, as everyone was a bit tired and we also had to hike about an hour to the particular bai we were interested in. We didn't see any elephants in the river side of the bai, but we'll go back this afternoon and have another look, this time at the forest side. As you might remember from some of my diary entries from previous years, it's very hard to hike around a bai. Not only are they very marshy in general, but when you step into an elephant footprint you often sink into waist-deep water!
Because this camp is so remote, we were able to bring only a limited amount of food and other provisions. We'll have only three days in which to collar an elephant before we have to leave the camp for the long hike out, but the trackers tell me that three days will be plenty of time. I will report again on Sunday and/or Monday, but then I will not be able to report during the hike out, as the forest canopy is so thick that I cannot pick-up a satellite signal strong enough to use the satellite phone.
About the author:
Dr. Mike Loomis is Chief Veterinarian at the North Carolina
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