A week’s holiday in the Central African Republic may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but I’d spotted a trip going deep into the rainforest, based at the wonderful Sangha Lodge, and decided that a week there might offer some great wildlife encounters.
The most famous wildlife there are the lowland gorillas. Three of us went to see them, with local trackers, on the first day and after not much more than an hour of walking through the forest (sometimes ankle deep through little sandy streams) our trackers found one of the two habituated families: a silverback, his females and a number of juveniles.
It takes around seven years to habituate the gorillas to human presence, and even then the encounter is not as interactive as the encounters with their cousins the mountain gorillas. They turned their backs on us a lot, and were very mobile so we had to keep moving to follow them around. This kept the trackers busy locating them; it’s amazing how easily such enormous creatures can just vanish into the bush!
The other wildlife spectacle that this part of the world is known for is the gathering of animals in the forest clearings known as ‘baïs’. The formation of these clearings is linked to geology, their being doleritic intrusions in the surrounding granite, and as they tend to be quite low-lying so the streams that run through many spread out into marshy areas. They are maintained and further developed by the elephants who come to dig in the mud for the many minerals (calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, manganese and phosphorus) and also eat the clay itself to help rid themselves of the tannins and alkaloids contained in the leaves they eat in the forest.