Field Journal: Congo Gorilla Safari
Posted by Jonathan Rossouw
in Africa and Expeditions
It’s hard to believe that it was only a week ago that our Congo gorilla safari began with our charter flight lifting off from Brazzaville International Airport, banking over the mighty Congo River before winging over seemingly endless forest towards the vast wilderness of Odzala National Park. We landed at the grass airstrip of Mboko, to be met by Karl and Alon, experienced guides with the newly formed Congo Conservation Company. Winding slowly towards our first camp at Ngaga, the sense of excited expectation in the group was almost palpable, a feeling heightened by the veritable cacophony of exotic sounds—hornbills, greenbuls and barbets—emanating from the dense canopy above us. Progress was slow, as first the flashy Blue-breasted Bee-eater and then its significantly rarer relative, the Black-headed Bee-eater, made an appearance, followed shortly by a family of outrageously adorned Plumed Guineafowl, another scarce Central African specialty.
There’s no doubt that the main reason that keen travelers visit Odzala is to track the habituated Western Lowland Gorillas, and our two days spent with these amazing creatures will surely rank amongst everyone’s most memorable wildlife encounters. The Neptuno group and its confident namesake Silverback definitely stole the show from the more reclusive Jupiter and his larger harem, with encounters ranging from the intimate to the sensational. From youngsters at play to dominance displays, termite-harvesting, and even a conflict with a wild, satellite male, we experienced the full gamut of gorilla behavior. We left Ngaga with a deep sense of appreciation for these phenomenal forest denizens and the incredible work that’s being done by the primatologist, Dr. Magda Bermejo, and her team of trackers and field assistants, to study and protect them.
The camp at Lango’s legendary bai was our next destination, providing an even more varied experience of the rich habitats within Odzala. From exploring the exquisite Lekoli River by kayak to watching herds of wallowing Forest Buffalo, wading waist deep through the swamp on a search for Red River Hogs in the flooded forest to appreciating Sitatungas bounding away through the sedges in the bai, these were all tantalizing insights into the fascinating world of the Congo rainforest.
Amazing what we’ve seen and done on this week-long Congo safari! Rwanda and its charismatic primates beckon us tomorrow… with the prospect of making this Apex trip the first to ever see BOTH gorilla species on one gorilla safari! Watch this space for an update from our Rwanda safari, coming soon…
Learn more about seeing Western Lowland Gorillas in Congo by visiting our Congo & Central African Republic page.