Tomeslice

Western Lowland Gorillas, Pangolins, Forest Elephants and Pottos - My trip report from the Central African Republic and Cameroon

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Posted (edited)

 

I just returned from a very special trips to one of the most amazing places I've ever visited: Dzangha-Sangha Special Reserve in the Central African Republic.

It's a long report because it has a LOT of info about the animals we saw, and some about animals we missed. It's totally different from your typical Eastern/Southern African Safari, and there is almost no overlap in the species you see. What an amazing place.

I just have to note something very important for anyone considering going to Dzanga-Sangha: It's SAFE! Yes, the Central African Republic is considered a War Zone, but it's only in the North, 100s of miles from this reserve, and from the amazing Sangha Lodge. You should get there via flight from Bangui or Yaounde, or by driving the long and turtourous road from Yaounde to Libongo. But once you get there, it's more safe than the USA has been over the past few years, with all the shootings etc...

 

Enjoy :-)

Edited by Tomeslice
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Great report! You saw so many rare/unusual nocturnal species! How awesome is that?? (I did not see nearly as many but I did see bongo :) Are visitors picking up for Rod and Tamar? I sure hope so---I went a couple years ago and hope to return sometime in the near future...it remains perhaps my most memorable, adventurous trip...I think about it all the time...I agree that it is certainly a completely safe destination coming from the Cameroonian side although I was able to hop a plane and avoid the long drive myself. (Lucky for me apparently to avoid that dreaded hotel you mentioned!)

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Thank you @@gatoratlarge !
Yes it was so awesome, I felt so lucky and I was excited about each and every species! Especially the white-bellied pangolins, gorillas, otter and de brazza's monkey - I think that those moments were the peaks for me :-)

I'm not sure if visitors are "picking up" but there's definitely a steady flow... since February there have been at least 5-7 groups, some stayed 7-8 nights and some only 1-2 nights. But I'm pretty sure Rod is going to renew the lease on his land concession for another 10 years, so you'll probably be able to go back in the future :-)

 

When were you there that you saw bongos? I was under the impression that Mid-March would be the best time to go, but apparently April/May is actually better.

 

I have to say, in defense of the Elephant Hotel, that on the way back the rooms we got were **slightly** better, and there wasn't as much mold and my bed was larger. But I did have a tarantula-like creature in the bathroom and still the toilets had no seats, etc... Yeah. Lol

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Really enjoyed the report. Some great sightings there - as always I guess.

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I can't wait to visit the CAR which will be in 2018. I can't wait. It's along with Zakouma the safari destination in Africa I want to visit the most of all.

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Great report! Sorry the Bongos were a no-show, but you had some seriously awesome sightings otherwise.

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Thanks guys!

 

Yes, @@pault , I think that most people who go to Sangha Lodge will experience most of the great sightings that I had. But of course you have to dedicate your time to being out in the field. We spent almost no time at the restaurant and bar area except for the meals. And of course we didn't do things like reading a book or watching a movie on our laptops..

 

I actually never heard of Zakouma before. Is it better than Kruger or the Serengeti?

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@@Tomeslice Please read the reviews on Safaritalk and for that matter on TripAdvisor, Google and Facebook. It is without a doubt one of the finest, most unspoiled and free of tourist national parks which anyone can visit. I had never heard of it myself two years ago and now I'm planning to visit next year. I will undoubtedly want to visit at least once more because it is unquestionably one of the most incredible wildlife experiences that anyone can have in Africa. Please notice that @@Paolo and @@Anita two of the most seasoned safari goers here on Safaritalk are making their third trip very shortly. There is no question that in Zakoma there are incredible night drives that are some of the most fruitful in Africa, there are astonishingly huge flock of queleas. There is even a fascinating cultural experience to it. You are always guaranteed to have less than 50 visitors in a gigantic national park.

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@@optig Wow that does sound amazing!

What do yo mean by "the most fruitful"? The next time I go to Africa I will try to research where I'm most likely to see serval, caracal and wild dogs... These are my top 3 "most wanted" species.

The little google search I did on that park did show a serval, but I wonder how often they're seen... like in some places they're considered "very rare" and in other places such as the ngorongoro almost everyone sees them (though we missed them). I read one trip report from Northern Tanzania + Kenya during the dry season where they saw 9 servals and 1 caracal!!!! :-D

 

Living in Israel, we also have caracals here, but I've yet to run into one. I also haven't tried hard enough yet.. only a few times in the right places.

 

But anyway - Dzanga-Sangha is also definitely spectacular. Just amazing, doesn't fall short of anything I've ever seen, from the snow leopards of the himalayas, to the rain forests of the Amazon and Central America, or the incredible forests of South-East Asia (Borneo + Sumatra). Highly recommended. And since you're already going in 2018, you should tell Rod which animals you're most interested in seeing, so he can hook you up with one of their great, knowledgable staff to try to find them for you. Pottos and palm civets are common , as are galagos. Otters, pangolins, porcupines are a little trickier. They also have many many other animals that we didn't see, of course. Good luck :-)

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@@Tomeslice

 

Serval are very commonly seen in Zakouma during night drives (and at times during the day). I think we saw four or five of them in a single night drive, and we had at least a serval sighting in almost all the night drives we did.

 

Caracal are there, but you have no better nor worse chances to see them than in a lot of dry areas in Africa. I would not consider Zakouma as a particular special place for Caracal.

 

You would need to be tremendously lucky to see wild dogs in Zakouma. The most recent sighting I am aware of was in late October 2015, and in the west of the park that it is never visited since game viewing is very sparse (contrary to the eastern side). So you would better go somewhere else (Botswana, Zimbabwe etc...) if you want to see wild dogs.

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@@Tomeslice Please excuse me I meant to say in 2019. Next year I'll be going to Zakouma as well as my second longest safari ever which will be to Zimbabwe for the fifth time, Botswana for the fourth,and Zambia for the fourth as well as Malawi.

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Thank you @@gatoratlarge !

Yes it was so awesome, I felt so lucky and I was excited about each and every species! Especially the white-bellied pangolins, gorillas, otter and de brazza's monkey - I think that those moments were the peaks for me :-)

I'm not sure if visitors are "picking up" but there's definitely a steady flow... since February there have been at least 5-7 groups, some stayed 7-8 nights and some only 1-2 nights. But I'm pretty sure Rod is going to renew the lease on his land concession for another 10 years, so you'll probably be able to go back in the future :-)

 

When were you there that you saw bongos? I was under the impression that Mid-March would be the best time to go, but apparently April/May is actually better.

 

I have to say, in defense of the Elephant Hotel, that on the way back the rooms we got were **slightly** better, and there wasn't as much mold and my bed was larger. But I did have a tarantula-like creature in the bathroom and still the toilets had no seats, etc... Yeah. Lol

 

You saw quite a great variety! Rod and Tamar were not there when I visited----I think I would have enlisted them in night walks if they had been there---bird watching too. But I'm not complaining---the trip remains one of my most fantastic memories of Africa. I got to spend time with Pangi as well who was still too young to go out on her own---what an accomplishment that she's living life in the wild to this day! Also, my last day there, a small white bellied pangolin was delivered to Sangha Lodge as its mother was a victim of the bush meat market...sadly, Oko lived for a while but succumbed to an illness a few months later....it is very difficult to keep a pangolin alive especially a baby without its mother...

 

So glad that Rod is likely to renew the lease---I will make it back ---I was going to go this year but I wanted to combine it with Mbeli Bai in Ndoki but I found out that Ndoki is closed for visitors for the time being with no scheduled date for re-opening. Not at all sure why but I will wait and hit both places if I'm able.

 

Funny all the various advice you receive! I researched when I might see bongo and thought I was there during the time when it's most likely. I was there FEB 27 through MAR 9. I was fortunate to see seven in the late afternoon come into the bai and make their rounds. Andrea Turkalo told me the week before that 70(!!!) came into the bai one day! That would have been extraordinary but seeing them at all was certainly extraordinary to me!

 

The finance guy for the German trust that supports the work going on in those tri-parks flew on the plane back to Youande with me and we spent some time together. He said he always takes the land route to send the signal about unnecessary extravagance and being prudent with $$ (although he was delighted to hop the plane with me). He said he was staying in perhaps that same hotel along the route and woke up in the middle of the night---one column of ants was crossing him diagonally and another column crossing him diagonally the opposite direction! He said he woke his driver in the middle of the night and told him "you can sleep and I'll drive but I'm not spending another minute in that hotel!" Later he inquired as to who owned the hotel so that he could lodge a complaint and it was the mayor of the town and he had been recently released from prison! He assumed a complaint would fall on deaf ears! I don't know if it's even true but it made for a good story! :)

 

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@@Paolo - Very intersting!
Well, before I go back to Africa I will have to hit up India (as Tiger remains the last big cat I haven't seen yet.. and then there's indian rhino, dhole, sloth bear, and many more friends). But I will strongly consider Chad when I plan another trip to Africa :-)

 

@@optig - either way you'll have an amazing time when you go! I'm sure of it :-) Try to bring a powerful torch/flashlight for night walks.

 

@@gatoratlarge - That's awesome! Well done. Oh, you were there when Oko was brought in? Yeah, for some reason they haven't had as much luck with white-bellied ones as much as they have with Black-bellied ones. But at least they give it their genuine best. And about the hotel in Yokadouma - OH MY GOD. I don't even know what i would do if I woke up to this situation. I think it's less likely now since there are musquito nets and I tucked mine under the mattress all around the perimeter so nothing could get in. And in all honesty, on the way back my room was generally cleaner, had soap and a clean towel (things they DIDN'T have the first time we visited, on the way from Yaounde to Libongo) and had a slightly better feel. I still wouldn't use the toilet there though. Lol.

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One of my future destinations. Thanx for sharing a great trip report!

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My pleasure :-)

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Excellent report @@Tomeslice. Very interesting, it allows not only to understand the dynamics of the place but also to feel its unique nature. It is encouraging to see more and more people set out to visit remote areas. It is also very important to recognize the entrepreneurship of Cassidy couple in the face of political instability, the numerous logistical / operational obstacles, the fickle flow of tourists etc.

The valuation of Dzanga Sangha expands with observation reports like this. The more "feedback", the more true promotional marketing we receive. Let's see: Zakouma is up, some Safaritalkers who visited it, propagated its beautiful, unique nature and its increasing population of fauna, allowing to know of its existence and practical means to visit it. Perhaps in the medium term, African Parks, in parallel with Cawa Safaris, and independent of the natural difficulties of visualization, can promote a small flow of tourist visits to the Chinko Project.

With regard to the absence of visualization of Bongos and only an elusive sitatunga, we always have in mind the huge problem of Bushmeat (they are the biggest antelopes of this ecosystem, therefore the most targeted ones). Dzanga Sangha is part of a whole forest complex and despite its enormous size, every ecosystem is interconnected. In Cameroon the Bongo trophy hunt is an "aggravating" factor in its quantitative. Although Dr. Andrea Turkalo has already seen 70 Bongos simultaneously in the "Bai" the elusive behavior of these two species is a sign of persecution.

"It would be great to spend a night at the Bai, with night vision equipment watching all the animals in their most relaxed hours! Maybe Bongos and Sitatungas will appear in large numbers. "

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Posted (edited)

@@Tomeslice I was there late March '15 and saw a herd of 39 bongo. Like you my primary target was the bongo. Approximately 5 sitatunga appeared as well.

 

So envious of your otter sighting!

Edited by wenchy
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wow what a trip and what a road journey. shame you didn't get to see the bongo but you saw tonnes nevertheless! I know a few STers are very keen to get to Sangha Lodge so your detailed report will provide that extra boost for them! thank you for sharing.

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@@wenchy that's great! I'm definitely jealous that you got to see the bongos!
But having said that, for me personally seeing a pangolin was higher on the "wish list" than the bongos, so having seen 2 species was just incredible! Also, being a "mammal watcher" I really enjoy some of the weird creatures that others may not appreciate as much, such as the potto, the anomalures, and the african palm civet.. not to mention the surprise visits by the servaline genet, congo clawless otter and Da Brazza's monkeys!!

I feel so lucky for having seen such a diversity of animals, that not seeing the bongos, while slightly disappointing, did not make me feel like my trip wasn't complete. Of course bongos and red river hogs would have been the extra icing on top of the already thick icing on the cake. But now I have a reason to visit the region again in the future :-)

 

@@Kitsafari - it's definitely my pleasure! I hope people are encouraged to go there and experience this amazing place. If anybody is interested, I put up over 300 pictures on my Flickr Account of my journey, the wildlife, the people, the scenes, and definitely more birds than in the "mammal watching" trip report. It can be found here:

https://www.flickr.com/gp/benyehuda/zR2H42

 

Cheers!

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@@Tomeslice your primate sightings looked fantastic indeed. In case this helps for your return to CAR - I spent many hours at the bai in hopes of the bongos arriving. After probably five/six hours on one of the days they literally all appeared at once remained for maybe 20-25 mins then all left at once. I did not see them again.

 

Lovely to hear Pangi is still in the vicinity of the lodge. Thanks for sharing such a great trip report.

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I'd pull a bee out of my eye to see a planned and an unplanned pangolin. And you had so much more. What a trip!

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@@wenchy yes, we had some 8-8.5 hour days at the bai (well 3 of those, to be exact). I can't complain really, elephants, buffalos, giant hogs and a servaline genet! Sitatungas of course we only saw in Bai Hoku.

If (when) I come back again, I'd spend all my days at the Bai until I found my bongos, and then I'd go straight back to the river for river hogs, that otter and the De Brazza's monkeys again! I would presume you could see Red River hogs if you stay the night inside the park (either at Dzanga Bai or in one of the campsites near Dzanga or Bai Hoku) and start your Bai Walk very very early. Or just at night inside the Bai if you spend the night there.

 

@@Atravelynn - Ha! That's a nice way to put it! Yes, I didn't have the most perfect first impression of Dzanga Bai with all these sweat bees, but if you asked me before this trip I would definitely have agreed to pull a bee out of my eye any day if I was told of all the amazing stuff I was going to see. Effing Wow. (still excited over it, and it's been 2 months now :lol: )

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When post trip euphoria lasts 2 months, you know it was a good one!

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Awesome report Tomer! I must have missed it on Mammalwatching.com. I really didn't know much about this region before. Being keen on primates, this seems like a great destination though. Thanks for sharing your adventure. I think I would have to fly there though since the hotel would not pass muster with my wife :) .

 

Alan

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@@Tomeslice - fabulous TR and fantastic, story-telling photos! Thanks so much for sharing.

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