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Interactive interview - Rod Cassidy. Sangha Lodge, CAR.

Rod Cassidy Sangha lodge CAR Gorilla

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 02:25 PM

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Rod Cassidy with a pangolin he personally rescued from a meat market and released into the wild.

 

@Rod Cassidy is the owner and founder of Sangha Lodge in The Dzanga Sangha protected area in the Central African Republic.
 
Rod's started his career at the Fitzpatrick Institute for Ornithology, University of Cape Town. He worked on various research projects, which took him to the Antarctic, Sub Antarctic islands (Marion and Gough Island) and the Cape Province.
 
Later he joined the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria where he worked with researchers in birds and small mammals, particularly bats. At that time, (1982), he also started guiding tours especially for bird watchers turning this into a full time business in 1990, when he started to lead trips further afield in Africa and South East Asia. 
 
In 1999 Rod started working in Central Africa, firstly in Gabon, and later in Rep Congo, Cameroons and The Central African Republic having switched to running and organising general wildlife tours and Primate Tours.
 
In 2009 Rod opened Sangha Lodge, in the Central African Republic and ran this with his wife Tamar and son Alon until the coup de tête in March 2013 when they had to flee the country for their own safety.
 
Following the massacre of elephants in early May 2013 Rod raised finance to return to Dzanga Sangha where he and his wife remain until today. Their presence here now is that of independent observers and conservationists right now as tourism will take a long time to re-establish. 
 
Rod firmly believes that  the feeling of abandonment that the locals felt when all the expats left in March 2013 had a huge part to play in the upsurge in elephant poaching in the area, and that their return has helped immensely to restore the local communities faith in the future. 
Rods extensive knowledge and experience in developing tourism and communities for the benefit of conservation in Central Africa make him unique in this field.
 
Rod invited Safaritalk members to submit questions about his work in this topic and the following interview features your questions and his answers.
 
 You can find out more about the lodge at its website here - www.sanghalodge.com

 

 

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@firmin13
 
From a photographers perspective, what would be the best time of the year to visit?
 
That all depends on what you are targeting to photograph. For the best light I would think the early rains are the best time, normally late June and July the air is clean and the colours are fantastic at the bais, and for gorillas. However the best time for game, is in the dry season, January through to end of April where you can get really large tuskers at Dzanga bai, and it is the time when there is a high chance to see bongo, hogs and Buff. The down side of this time is there are days when the Hamatten affect the clarity of the air, and somedays can seem hazy all the time. On a trip of 6 to 10 days though you would be unlucky to have this happen more than two or three days. 
 
@optig
 
I've thought of visiting Wilderness Safari's camp in the Congo, unfortunately, there seems to be nothing to combine it with due to events in the Central African Republic, and the lack of development in Gabon as well as terrible poaching. I would love to hear Rod's perspective on the future of wildlife tourism in the Central African Republic.
 
As I finally sit down to answer all these questions, 7 May 2014 things for us seem at an all-time low, so the future does not seem easy to predict. My hope and general feeling is this, that sooner or later it will be realised by most that this strange corner of the country is no more dangerous now than it ever has been. Isolated and of no interest to the political battles going on in the capital and further north there is little reason for Anti Balaka to remain here, and having prevailed in their struggle in this part they will all leave leaving this corner in peace. I have worked in this park since 2003 shortly after Bozizi came to power in a coup, and I have lived here since 2009. During that whole time there have always been very strongly worded travel advisories against CAR and honestly they are not very different to what we read today. Anyone wanting to visit this area needs to know that it will never be considered a safe region by the majority of governments and it never has been, however this little corner has suffered far less than the rest of the country and will remain a secluded safe spot in an otherwise weird country.
 
Having rambled on with politics, the future as I see it will be hard for us, but the wildlife spectacle here is far superior to anything that you will find in the rest of the Congo basin.
 
This is the place to be, and given some stability tourism will flourish.
 
@Paolo

 

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Dzanga Bai is widely known as the best location in Africa for watching forest Elephant and Bongo. Could you tell us a bit about its unique ecology?
 
Dzanga bai, there are those far more qualified than I am to talk about the ecology, but I will attempt to describe this as best as I see it. The word Bai is a Ba’aka word meaning forest clearing, and Dzanga bai is one of many bai to the Sangha Trinational parks. Dzanga bai however is unique as it is very rich in minerals which bubble up through the streams and waterways that flow through the bai, this is a haven for forest elephants which are always present at the bai, with numbers daily varying from 20 to up to 150 on occasions. These elephants are all drawn here for the minerals, and it is amazing to watch interaction between groups of elephants throughout the day. Add to this the bai is also visited regularly by Forest Buffaloes, Bongos, red river and Giant Forest Hogs, Sitatunga, and Black and white Colobus Monkeys. 
 
To my mind, there is no place like it, and I often describe it to friends as the best elephant experience you can have, but honestly it is far more than that.
 
How does Lowland Gorilla tracking and viewing at Hokou Bai work? How would you compare it with Odzala, if any such comparison is possible?
 
I have not tracked at Odzala so I have no personal experience; the last time I was in Odzala was in 2003 I think, just before the big Ebola outbreak that decimated the gorilla populations there. But I can go on the word of a spy I have working there….  My son Alon Guides for Wilderness as there is no work for him here right now. He has vast experience with all the gorillas here and now knows the gorillas in Odzala well, his view is that the Odzala gorilla experience is as good as ours on most days, and better on some. Never worse. 
 
Tracking here works this way: in that you drive out to Bai Hoku and track from a starting point. The gorillas are followed every day and you walk to the group which has generally been followed since early am. You are allowed 1 hour per permit, a permit costs 300 euros. You can, if available, get two permits and track for two solid hours. (There is a discount for the second permit.). Normal protocols for gorilla tracking are very strictly adhered to.
 
One of the richest wildlife areas in CAR today is the Chinko Basin, where the Chinko Project and CAWA (Central Africa Wildlife Safaris - a hunting outfitter) still operated, as far as I know, until recently. Have you got any update?
 
The Chinko project, www.chinkoproject.com is definitely still up and running, I am in touch with them from time to time as friends but have little to do with the project. Personally I do not hunt and never have, but I hold them to be the highest standard for proof that hunting can benefit conservation. The two founders of the Chinko project, Erik Mararve and David Simpson conceived this idea while locked up in a Bangui prison for 6 months in 2012, and have shown extraordinary commitment to keeping their dream alive.
 
Would you see any future for the large, "classic" northern CAR protected areas such as Bamingui-Bangoran NP and Manovo Gounda St. Floris NP, as well as the Zemongo Faunal Reserve?
 
These reserves in general are in very unstable areas, and I do not see any way that they will become safe in the coming years. Would this change, Central African wildlife reserves will rival any east African or southern African reserves.

 

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I gather that you have got an interest in Pangolin, and that you see plenty of them to boot. Can you expand a bit on this passion and these lovely creatures you meet at Sangha Lodge?
.
Pangolins came to my attention some years ago when I realised how many of them were being caught and eaten every day in Central Africa. They are very easy to catch and whenever anyone, no matter who it is, sees one, they catch it and normally eat it. Sadly they are also very easy to keep alive for several days by simply tying it up by its tail and hanging it from a stick, the animal is helpless. These sell generally around here for roughly 5 or 6 dollars for a live animal on the roadside. I have taken to getting my staff to buy these when they see them and releasing them in the vicinity of the lodge, I can’t say I am making a big contribution to saving pangolin just yet but I have certainly saved a lot of individuals…like the story with the boy and the Star fish. Until recently few people knew that Pangolins are the most traded wildlife species of all, with the majority of pangolins heading for the east, and China in particular. Asian pangolin species are tottering on the edge, and the onslaught by Chinese traders on African Pangolins has started. We have to be aware of this and do our best to stem the tide.
 
I assume that operating Sangha Lodge amongst a perennial state of insecurity, logistical difficulties and a stream of visitors which might range from modest in the good times to non-existent in times like this is an immense challenge. Have you ever considered throwing the towel?
 
Throwing in the towel, ironically never until this week had that never crossed my mind, but the latest body blow that destroyed my spirit was the fact that we were expecting clients, 4 of the to arrive and at the last minute, literally while the clients were waiting to board their plane we got word that the Minister has closed the park to tourists presumably on advice from WWF. We were not consulted and the lack of understanding of the situation on the ground here by people in offices is appalling. So yes I have considered throwing in the towel, but after a day or two of contemplation and lots of support from friends, Tamar, (my wife), and I have decided that we leave they win…. And if it has to become a battle then so be it.
 
On balance, how would you consider the role played by NGOs in Dzangha Sangha, not only in relation to the latest developments, but throughout all of your time at Sangha Lodge?
 
I am afraid I can’t answer this on the grounds of my current relationship with said Ngo’s, and any answer I give would not be fair and balanced.
 
@pault
 
This looks really interesting and good on you for going back so soon. But how, right now, would we get there from (i) Nairobi or (ii) Johannesburg, which is where most visitors who are not already visiting neighbouring countries are likely to be starting from?
 
There are, at this stage, only two safe options, one via Cameroon and one via Rep. Congo.
 
Coming from Cameroon you need to hire a car with a driver which we can help with, and depending on your schedule drive form Yaoundé or Douala to Libongo on the Sangha River. The drive across Cameroon will take at least 20 hours drive time and normally involves two overnight stops, at Bertoua and then Yakadouma.  From Libongo on the river we transfer you upriver to the lodge by boat.
 
Coming From Brazzaville, fly to Ouesso in the north and boat upriver from Ouesso to Bayanga, this would normally be done in conjunction with a trip to Nouabali Ndoki national park in Congo.
 
Getting to Douala Yaoundé or Brazzaville from JHB and Nairobi is not difficult at all with many different options.
 
In the future should Kenya airways resume direct flights to Bangui we would again consider this route as the best option as you can be here in a 1 hour charter from Bangui.
 
Otherwise, of course my number one question is (and this can be combined with other questions I am sure)... When is a good time to go for reasonably good weather and maximum activity at Dzanga Bai? 
 
Maximum activity at Dzanga is definitely the dry season, where there is the best chance of finding Bongos and the different Hogs, elephants are year round, but the numbers do peak in the dry season I feel, but like I have said before, the dry season sometime has days of haze caused by the hamattan.
 
@Julian Fennessy
 
Keen to find out the status of giraffe in C.A.R. We did the first Country Profile for the country last year, but difficult to find up-to-date information, contacts, data, etc. Is the population being further decimated or unknown?
 
I am uncertain of this and cant really help much here, except to refer you to Erik Marave and David Simpson at the www.chinkoproject.com they work the savanah regions so may have some more ideas. I have only seen sahelian giraffes in Cameroon in Wasa national park, but have no idea of their status in this country. 
 
@Zim Girl

 

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You have worked in Gabon, Rep of Congo and CAR - How does Lowland Gorilla viewing compare in each country in terms of distance from the gorillas and the viewing conditions on the ground, ie. bai, forest etc?
 
The habituation programs as far as I know, (I may be out of date on this), in Gabon have not been a great success, so you would have to be extremely lucky to see gorillas in Gabon. In the time I worked there I ran into gorillas only twice, and by pure chance. The habituated western lowland options then are restricted to Odzala, Noaubali NdokiNational Park, (NNNP), also in Rep. Congo and Dzanga Sangha in CAR. All these experiences I feel are on equal par, although we always like to say ours are better…. Value for money, central African experience is by far the cheapest.
 
Gorillas viewed in the bais, I don’t know what the situation is now in Gabon, aand since the ebola outbreak in congo I don’t think any reliable sites remain in Odzala, the only two places I know are NNNP in  Congo and Lobeki National park in Cameroon, of which NNNP is by far the more superior, with chances of seeing gorillas at Mbeli bai on any given day over 80%. All these national parks follow set gorilla viewing protocols, ie. Min distance 7 meters, no coughing peeing spitting farting eating etc…
 
If the safety situation on the ground were to suddenly improve, how long would it take before it would be feasible for tourists to start visiting again?
 
The truth is, security is fluid here at the moment and we have a single clients/ friends visiting right now… Today he went to see gorillas tomorrow he goes to Dzanga bai. Tourists are welcome there are windows of opportunity that we monitor closely, and unless the minister keeps the park closed we can accept tourist at any time.  
 
We believe that the situation is changing and improving and trust that the park will be open soon. I should hope that we should able to have reliable access and security here by mid-July or august 2014.
 
@inyathi
 
Just today I see on the news that there has been a grenade attack on a funeral in Bangui and only last week, (I think), I saw another report on the brutal massacres of Muslims being carried out by the Anti-Balaka. It seems as if the peacekeeping forces are unable to quell the violence.Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?
 
Since you wrote the question the situation has definitely not improved in the north and centre, but you have to understand the geography of the country and get some perspective of exactly where we are. Looking at any map of CAR you will notice a finger of land pointing south wedged between Cameroon and republic of Congo… this unusual remoteness with very limited access provides a kind of safe haven... No-one comes here by chance, it is not on the road to anywhere, you have to decide to come here and the road stops here. 
 
That said to your question, is there light at the end of the tunnel? For the country, It seems bleak, but since my first visit here in 2003 it was bleak for most of the country, our belief is that some form of stability will arise soon, with one of the factions proving stronger than the others and taking control and likely winning the elections, for the bulk of the country this will remain unstable, but for some areas like where we are and Chinko, isolated by geography, we will continue to function and do some good work.  
 
If tourist operations cannot be resumed soon how long will you be able to remain at Sangha?
 
This is possibly the easiest question I have had to answer in the whole interview…, we have enough funds to last another 2 months. That’s it! I am leaving Sangha Lodge in 2 weeks, (from writing this), going back home to South Africa and from there I will try and raise some more finance, ether loans, donations, or perhaps with a lot of luck a partnership…. Honestly we have no idea what we will do if we fail to secure some finance.
 
I understand that Forest elephants across the region are being hammered by poachers are you hopeful that the situation can be brought under control before it’s too late?
 
Amazingly the Dzanga Sangha protected area has maintained it’s protection of some of the key areas, like Dzanga bai, but yes there has been a lot of poaching which we can only say is not good. The totals for the Dzanga sangha area in the last year is grossly underestimated in my opinion, the infamous killings last May of 26 in Dzanga bai aside I know of at least another 4, and the area is so vast that you can be sure that this figure is far higher. I think however that in this area it is under control, and ironically areas in adjacent Rep. Congo and Cameroon are probably far less controlled.
 
We hope that soon we will be able to increase a presence in one area know that has particularly high densities of elephants before poachers become aware of this zone. However it all takes funding of which we have very little.
 
Has the general lawlessness led to an upsurge in meat poaching and which species are most affected?
 
No not at the moment. There is an irony with the politics here at the moment, the Anti Balaka militia have forced out all Muslims from the country. That means all the cattle herders have left, they were all Fulani and had to flee with their cattle. In their wake they “Sold” off a lot of their cows to Christians for ridiculously low prices and these are now flooding the market with cheap meat. Another strange positive was while the Seleka were in power around here they disarmed many of the locals and so have removed many weapons from circulation… so the irony of cheap beef and fewer guns is great for controlling the bush meat trade.
 
However these cattle are being slaughtered and not breeding, so as soon as these run out, you can expect an upturn in Poaching once again. 
 
I understand that in certain parts of Central Africa there is a taboo against eating striped animals and that as a result local people don’t hunt bongos is this case in Dzanga Sangha?
 
No, the people here eat everything with four legs except tables and chairs.
 
If local hunters don’t go after bongo foreign trophy hunters certainly do and while I don’t suppose there’s much hunting going on in C.A.R. at present I’m sure there is in Cameroon, do you have any views on the sustainability of hunting bongos?
 
I don’t Hunt myself but I certainly am not against sustainable usage of the resources. I do own a hunting concession but we do not hunt on this but hope to develop it for less consumptive tourism. So no I don’t really have any views on the sustainability of hunting bongos, but what I do have is data, dating back to 1993 for the hunting of bongos on my concession and also several other concessions in other areas in CAR. The Data for our area proves conclusively that the area was over hunted, and that the hunting was not sustainable.
 
There was little science put into setting the annual quotas, and here in the forest zone these were set far too high. The data for other areas, the Chinko zone for example, mixed savannah and riparian woodland, the data shows a far more responsible quota setting.
 

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I visited Gabon back in 2008 and came away feeling very hopeful about the future of tourism in Gabon but if anything since then tourism has gone backwards, at least the situation in Congo with the opening of the two wilderness camps in Odzala is more positive. Do you think that wildlife tourism will eventually be the saviour of the Congo Basin’s wildlife?
 
No, I don’t try and fool myself that tourism is the panacea for all wildlife problems, what it does though is develop some jobs, creates some hope but most of all shows both the local communities and governments that people outside of their small world appreciate what they have. It gives them a sense of pride in their own environment and this is invaluable.
 
My personal experience is seeing the joy on people’s faces when we returned here after the coup d'etat last year was incredible. Tourism is certainly not the panacea, but it is vital for the morale of the communities. Conservation will continue to need inputs from donors and NGO’ s for a long time. 
 
If National Parks are not really generating any money from tourism what incentive is there to combat poaching or keep out oil & mining companies or even loggers?
 
Truthfully there is little chance that tourism revenues will ever be enough to sustain the park and this will continue to depend on donors like WWF, but Seeing tourists and having some tourist jobs certainly help argue against these actions. This country though is so corrupt and so dysfunctional there are always continued threats of Loggers and miners arriving.
 
@Rwenzori
 
The rainforest of south-western CAR is zoned for different kinds of land use, with the two sectors of Dzanga-Sangha National Park covering just a tiny portion of it. Much of it is classified as production forest or as community hunting zone. In your opinion is the level of protection granted to the park sufficient? Is there any significant difference regarding the density of wildlife between protected and unprotected areas or not? To sum up, do you think that the park is safer for the animals than the neighbouring production forests and hunting zones or not?
 
The two Core areas of the protected area are the two national parks, each of around 650 Km2.
 
These two areas are well protected and by rangers and also by legislation, Logging and other forms of usage will not happen in these areas as far as we can say. Poaching in these two areas is under control. The balance of the protected area which has this multiple land use system in place is not very well protected and most of the efforts here go into key species protection only. These areas are also vulnerable as they can at anytime be given out to logging, and trophy hunting. I own a 640 Km2 hunting concession here that we had changed the usage from hunting to tourism activities, so my portion at least cannot have trophy hunting on it. 
 
Wildlife in the two core areas in the park is far higher than most of the rest of the protected area excepting the concession that I own, which has similar densities to the parks. 
 
Currently there is no safari hunting in south-eastern CAR. The industry was recently opened again in Congo Brazzaville, (although we are talking about very limited operations), and it has been operative for a long time in Cameroon, the last place in Africa where forest elephants can be legally hunted.
 
Do you believe that a trophy hunting industry could be helpful to nature conservation if established in the surrounding production forests or in your opinion it would only add more pressure?
 
At this point in our region Trophy hunting would be a mistake. The data is clear that the quotas were always set far too high and the populations all but disappeared in twenty years of hunting. These are well on the road to recovery now, but we will need some real science done before this should be considered.
 
Do you know about any recent estimate about the populations of elephants, bongos, buffaloes, gorillas etc. inside the park? 
 
There are figures, but I don’t have easy access to them and wont until the WWF offices reopen, (not sure when that will be), but for Gorillas, the number vary from 2-5 per Km2 throughout the bulk of the protected area. Bongo numbers I can say are increasing but we don’t have figures, but herds of between 40 and 100 are often encountered in my concession and at Dzanga bai. Likewise for Buffaloes, herds of up to 50 at several different clearings. Elephants, I will deal with in the next question.
 

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In the last 10 years forest elephant populations have decreased about 65% throughout Congo Basin. Have those of Sangha been almost stable during this period or not? 
 
You have to understand that the population of elephant here moves all the time, and looking at Dzanga sangha alone does not give the truth. Visiting this area you will see large numbers of elephants at any time of year, and the population has swelled in fact over the last 6 years. This coincides with Logging pressure across the Border in Rep. Congo.  
 
How much difficult is to spot wildlife of any kind, (except arthropods), outside the Bai? According to your experience, if I would spend a day trekking in the forest how often I would change upon safari animals?
 
Wildlife viewing in rain forest is a totally different concept to viewing in savannah, and you have to appreciate that or you will go mad. If you come to the rainforest come to see and try and understand the rainforest rather than chase larger safari animals. I would guess less than a thousand people visit the congo basin each year to look for wildlife, and when they do the bulk of the time is for elephants and Gorillas…. Yet the Amazon which has no charismatic animals attracts many thousands of tourists…. We have to develop a different mind-set for rainforests.
 
So to get back to your question if you spent a day tracking in the right areas you would have a chance of seeing red River and Giant forest Hog, Buffaloes, Sitatunga, Bongos, and 2 or three species of duiker, lets say a 5-15 % of each…. As we start to develop our own concesion we expect to improve this hit rate to 40-50% which will mean a few days tracking can easily turn up a host of good species. 
 
If seeing other animals, smaller mammals and not just the larger species, then check out two or three trip reports on www.mammalwatching.com. John Hall on his trip here saw 36 species of mammal. 
 
Do those beautiful flocks of green pigeons and grey parrots still swarm across the park or they have already been poached out for the pet trade? And in the unprotected forests? 
 
Here I have never seen Green pigeons coming down to the bais but they are very common here.
 
Grey parrots are very common and come down to the bai at Dzanga almost every morning, but you have to get there early enough. So far I have not seen any signs ever of trade in birds here ether for pets or for bushmeat, but this may develop at some point so we keep vigilant.
 
How many human settlements both legal or not are placed inside the park? Do they pose a threat to the ecosystem?
 
Differentiate between the park and the protected area…. In the national parks, there are no settlements at all. In the protected area there are many villages and there are several different zones, for different land usages, like agricultural zone, village zones and community hunting zones. These have been here for a very long time and the boundaries are fairly clear. The illegal settlements that have developed around illegal diamond mining pose a big threat, and these have never been dealt with efficiently. We hope that when things calm down here politically we can start addressing some of these issues.
 
Are the local people supportive of the park, (and of its restrictions), or they would hunt without any limit if they could? (Provided that they are not doing it already). Is nature conservation perceived as an important issue or the park is seen just as a colonial operation?
 
Support depends who you ask….. the locals support the park in that it employs a lot of people, but most people in this country are not forward thinking and will plunder the park if given the chance, of that I have no doubt. Here its all about jobs and what the park can provide. Tourism is vital to add to the jobs and expose more locals to possibilities from outside.
 
Which measures would you enforce to win the war against bushmeat trade in Central Africa? 
 
I don’t think you can ever expect to stop the bushmeat trade, people here have always relied on bushmeat for their protein, what is important is to control it, and prevent commercial bushmeat trading, that is the exporting of large quantities of meat from here to the bigger cities and even abroad. Currently with the political crisis in the country road travel is almost non-existent, this has stopped the export of meat for now.
 
Can we hope to reduce it by promoting poultry keeping and cane rats farming among the locals? 
 
Yes a broad plan along these lines will certainly help, I would add fish farming to that, but yes I know that if there is a reliable source of good protein, the locals would go for that. This would need real commitment from the outside to help develop this and there are many examples of failed projects like this.
 
What do you know about the nearby protected areas, (e.g. Lobeke National Park, Nouabalé-Ndoki national park)? Have you ever been there? Are they effectively managed or not? Do they host large wildlife populations like Dzanga-Sangha? How things are at the moment (compared to Dzanga)? 
 
I know NNNP very well, I have been there many times, It is very well managed and run by the WCS. I know Lobeki only because it is close, but strangely enough I have yet to go there. I cannot comment on the management there except to say that tourist who arrive here having been to lobeki often report coming across poacher, including poacher with large number of grey parrots.
 
Matt, (Gamewarden)
 
Which, if any NGOs are operating in and around Dzanga Sangha protected area? (Whether they be wildlife or humanitarian.) What is their prime focus and have they been involved in any way with you?
 
WWF and IUCN, both have a presence here but WWF controls the system. I have for many years worked very well with them but lately I have to say that things have gone a little sour. 
 
Their primary focus is to fund and advise the national staff, (who work for the government), on the running of the park. They also run development projects amongst the local population with limited success.
 
Please describe what the bushmeat markets are and how often they run. How are you treated when you show up? Is it a dangerous place for a foreigner to show up at? What kind of wildlife is sold there? etc. 
 
The local bush meat market here in Bayanga is just part of the market, the meats is sold in a section of the market that seems by some agreement reserved for meat, you can find most of the legal meat available here… You will never find gorilla or elephant meat at any open market in the area as this is illegal and they would be prosecuted.
 
The only large market I have been to was some years ago in Libreville where there was everything available including elephant, Gorilla, Chimp, Mandrill and Manatee. At that time they were not aggressive towards us but would not allow pictures.
 
How has the park changed from when you first arrived to now?  
 
Not much no, Socially it has changed as we are the isolated small group of expats here right now…. Only three of us. There are no WWF expats staff even and that is a huge part of my issue with WWF. But the park itself, no it is much the same except maybe that the roads are worse.

 

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Did you create the lodge from scratch or take over something already running? If the former, what were the logistics of creating a lodge in the park and what tribulations did you face when starting out?
 
I took over an abandoned Safaris hunting camp and developed that.
 
Starting out honestly was to get the people working in the system to take me seriously. No one believed that I would stay and make the lodge work, from the entire staff working at the project offices at the time to directors and ministers working for the government. That was by far my biggest hurdle, the camp and the logistics are far less of a problem. We kept the same simple buildings as the safari camp had and expanded adding several more room. Our rooms are not luxurious but have hot and cold running water, our kitchen does not do 5 star quality meals, but rather simple yet satisfying meals. Developing a system to supply took some time to perfect but that has now gone to hell in a hand-basket with the war and the eviction from the country of all Muslims… They were critical to our supply line.
 
So the development of the lodge and the development of the supply lines was easy compared to what we are going through now, and as calm returns we are staring to plan to develop new supply lines and we look forward to the challenge.   
 
Where do your visitors come from, country breakdown? How do they hear about you?
 
Now Nowhere ;)  Actually 1 Italian in the last 6 months. Before the war, 50% German, 15% Spanish, 15% British, and 20% made up from the rest of the world.
 
What will it take for more operators to invest in CAR: indeed, with the insecurity, do you envisage that they ever will?
 
I don’t know what it will take, but it needs more philanthropic investment than investment from someone looking for a large return. You need to know and love this place like I do to understand how special it is. To survive here we need to raise more money, and to develop even more again, really we are looking for that Philanthropic Partner who will invest and keep supporting this place as long as the troubles continue, and then possibly we can expect a return after a further few years of development once again.
 
Update, 20 May 2014: The central government, department of Defence, Department of Tourism and dept. of Forests have made securing Bayanga for tourism a priority. Last week a small force of Regular central African Soldiers were stationed in Bayanga, the result being that all the Anti Balaka have fled back north. We expect this situation to hold as AB have little to gain by challenging this force, and by 1 July we expect the park to open to tourism with all supporting this. I am confiident in the new system and feel that within the coming month the area will return to being as secure for tourists as it has been since I started trips in 2004. An Isolated corner of paradise in the chaos. 
 
 
All images courtesy and © of Rod Cassidy.
 

The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.


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#2 Kitsafari

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 04:52 PM

this has been very enlightening and the last update sounds encouraging. I do wish Rod all the best in holding on to the Sangha lodge. thank you @GW and Rod for highlighting a less known area of Africa to me. 


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#3 michael-ibk

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 05:24 PM

Seconded.

That Bongo shot alone shows how incredibly beautiful this place must be. And I still vividly remember the terrific material on it in the BBC's Africa series. But really dark times for Mr. Cassidy, one can only hope that he will be able to get through this. Even with the reopening of the park it will definitely take a long time for his business to get back to ots former state - if he is able to hold down the fort for that long. :(
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#4 pault

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 08:02 PM

Phew! That was quite a read. Frank and fascinating answers. Thanks to all involved. Great stuff.
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Waiting again... for the next time again


#5 Rwenzori

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Posted 24 May 2014 - 12:31 PM

I'd like to thank Rod a lot.

We submerged him with so many complicated questions and he has found time to answer all them in spite of the hard times that Sangha lodge is facing right now  which, I’m sure, are giving him a lot to think about.


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#6 Paolo

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Posted 24 May 2014 - 06:35 PM

Thanks Ma and @Rod for this great interview. Really frank and eye opening.

 

I hope to make it to CAR one day, and witnes the forest elephants at Dzanga Bai,s well as the huge biodiversity of the Chinko Basin-



#7 Anita

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Posted 25 May 2014 - 07:26 AM

Another big thanks Rod Matt. I too hope to visit in the next few years. Extremely informative. And Rod you are an inspiration in many ways for sticking it out right till beyond the (temporary) end. Hoping to see you back in action soon.

#8 Zim Girl

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Posted 25 May 2014 - 05:43 PM

Thank you for the in depth answers to our questions.  This provides lots of useful information and I too would love to think that a visit is on the cards in the not too distant future.



#9 gatoratlarge

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Posted 27 May 2014 - 09:35 PM

Just had a chance to read this---I hope to visit early next year (2015) and it sits at the top of my travel list.  Very encouraged by Rod's answers and the future stability of the park---to me, it seems the best place in the world to check out the wildlife of the bais and forest clearings---I was at Langouie Bai in Gabon and saw plenty of forest elephants, buffs and sitatunga---I wasn't as lucky with the gorillas.  The chance to see bongos seems by far the best at Dzangha.  Keep up the fight Rod and hope to see you in March of next year...



#10 twaffle

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Posted 27 May 2014 - 11:00 PM

I really enjoyed reading about this rarely visited area and the challenges you've faced. A friend of mine studied elephants at Dzangha many years ago so I've always had an interest in the area. Sadly, it is unlikely that I will ever be in a position to visit the park despite the fact that I often find myself dreaming about it.

… clarity in thought comes after challenge …


#11 SafariChick

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Posted 28 May 2014 - 02:43 AM

Very interesting interview.  This is a place I hope to be able to visit some day. Glad to see the update of May 20. And I love the pangolins, thank you for helping them - love all the photos of them and I follow you on Facebook as well and enjoy seeing the photos there!



#12 graceland

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Posted 29 May 2014 - 11:18 AM

Another thank you for an inspiring story of sticking it out no matter the circumstances. I too follow  on FB and wish you success in the future. Will be keeping track as it appears to be exceptional area for a true wildlife experience.







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