by Mike Loomis
April 17, 2003
Right now we are still in Kombo Camp, waiting to get a ride back out to Lobeke so that we can replace Robinson’s collar. Our vehicle has two flat tires, so I’m not sure when we’ll get out.
But, we do have a lot of good news to report. First, we succeeded in collaring a bongo yesterday morning! It rained heavily the night before, which is usually a good thing for tracking bongo, but the rain continued into the early morning, obscuring many of the tracks and activity. We left camp at 6:30 and drove for two hours before finding tracks. They had been rained on and it was difficult to tell how fresh they were. Since it was already 8:30, Felix Barrado Zabas (the professional hunter who has been assisting us with the bongo) decided to try to track the animal anyway. We set off into the forest.
After only a half hour, the trackers had found the bongo, and the dogs had it surrounded. The dogs divided into two groups and harassed the bongo from the front and the rear. The animal was so preoccupied with the dogs that she ignored me as I got into position for a shot. I carefully aimed and hit the bongo in the left hip. It was still distracted by the dogs and did not notice that it was darted! It finally managed to break free of the dogs, but only ran for 20 yards before the anesthetic took effect.
From the time the animal was darted to the time it went down was five minutes. After it went down, and the team proceeded to collar the animal. The bongo did very well under anesthesia, and the collar was applied in under 30 minutes. The bongo had a ten day-old snare wound to its left front foot. Unfortunately, poachers place many wire duiker snares in the forest. Bongos are significantly larger animals, and are usually able to break duiker-sized snares. The wound did not look very serious and the animal should recover. After the collar was applied, I reversed the anesthetic. She rose to a sternal position for several minutes, and then stood and stared directly at us for another minute before bolting into the forest.
As far as we know, this is the first time anyone has put a tracking collar on a wild bongo. Bongos are large antelope, but they live in the forest and are very secretive animals. It is very difficult to observe them in the wild and little is known about their activities. The tracking collar will help gather basic information on habitat utilization, home range size, and any changes in movement patterns based on season or rainfall patterns. This data can then be used to do more detailed studies in the field. Understandably, the team was ecstatic and celebrated at Felix’s camp before heading for Camp Kombo to prepare to track the elephant Robinson. By the way, we have named the bongo “Zhanar” in honor of Felix’s wife.
We would not have been able to succeed in collaring the bongo without the help of Felix. In addition to technical assistance, he allowed us to use his camp, trackers, and dogs. He is dedicated to bongo conservation and hopes that this is the first of many bongo conservation activities in his hunting zone.
The other piece of good news is that Desire the elephant has apparently not been poached after all. The data we have been receiving from the collar has indicated a problem for quite a while now. However, Desire has been seen recently in and around several hunting concessions. Our assumption at this point is that the collar, or at least the transmitter, has fallen off the animal. So, even though we aren’t getting any useful research data from that collar, we are happy to know that Desire is still alive.
We’ll keep you posted about our progress in re-collaring Robinson.
About the author:
Dr. Mike Loomis is Chief Veterinarian at the North Carolina