Disappointment in Boumba Bek
by Mike Loomis
April 7, 2003
After a long hike to get to the Boumba Bek base camp, we've been unable to collar an elephant. We were up early yesterday morning in order to check the forest side of the Batouka bai, which is one of five bais in this region (the five bais are Fike I, Fike II, Batouka, Pondo, and Likolo). There has been a lot of rain in the last couple of days, so we are a bit hesitant to look for elephants on the river side of the bai—it's possible that a darted elephant would try to swim the river in order to escape, and I don't know that the animal could make that swim if drugged.
In any event, we didn't see any fresh tracks on the Batouka, so we went back to camp to rest and clean our equipment. One of the trackers caught an electric catfish in the river this evening. It was really interesting to watch the crew handle the fish, as apparently it can deliver a pretty healthy shock. We ate the fish last night, and it was really delicious.
We got up this morning and decided to check both sides of the river, just in case the elephants had crossed the river somewhere upstream. A pirogue (dugout canoe) was supposed to be nearby, but someone had taken it, so we had to do it all on foot. We walked the bai on the river side, crossed, and came down the forest side. On our way back we found some fresh, but very small, elephant tracks. We followed them awhile, but decided that this elephant, even if we could find him, would probably be too small to collar—our concern was that the elephant would outgrow the collar and that we wouldn't be able to retrieve it before it could injure him.
We returned to camp and sat down to figure out what to do next. Since we only have enough food and supplies for three more days, we decided that we would have to leave Boumba Bek and try to collar an elephant here next year. It was a tough decision to make, but then again we have a 30-40 mile hike out, and we need to make sure that we can make that trip safely. And, the fact is, we haven't seen much recent elephant activity here, so it's possible that the elephants have moved out of the area. Some of the bais look like they've been plowed up by elephants, but the evidence of that activity is at least a month old—so perhaps we can return in early March or so next year and have better luck.
Our plan is to head back to Yokadouma, and from there go back out in the field an attempt to collar a bongo. If things go really well for us, we'll also try to locate Robinson, an elephant we collared in 2002, and replace that collar with the one we would have used in Boumba Bek. That will give us a second year of data on that animal, which would be very valuable for the long-term study of elephants in the southeast region.
Because of bad weather and heavy forest, we will likely be out of communication with the United States for two or three days. We will be back in touch as soon as possible.
About the author:
Dr. Mike Loomis is Chief Veterinarian at the North Carolina
Would you like to comment on this article?
View printer-friendly version