A Western lowland gorilla, silverback Papa Gentil, keeps watchful eye on his surroundings while feeding in a riverside forest of Moukalaba-Doudou National Park in Gabon. He is the patriarch of a family that has been studied and habituated by scientists for years.
I feel small, vulnerable, almost insignificant before the penetrating stare of this beast who passes before me.
Our eye contact is unnerving. I am ashamed that so many of my brothers have found sport in the killing of these magnificent animals, made trinkets of his bones, and left his empty carcass, desecrated, to rot in the African sun. Karma will be waiting around the corner.
A starling has returned to his perch above UN Drive. Two of them, actually. They have built a nest hidden deep in the hollow of a power pole. Lady starling, very discrete as the pair fly direct to their secret nest, her mate diverting to a wire at the last moment. He surveys the streets and rooftops until all is calm before resuming his search for a meal.
Two shadows circled down from a nearby palm to scramble into the branches of a mimosa tree overgrowing our path through Old Embassy Compound. Plantain-eaters, often timid, usually keep their distance, but today we were allowed a closer look. The two birds hop among the branches with a turaco-like grace, and in the soft light of an early evening, they stop as we approach, resting quietly not-too-high above, cocking their heads for a better view as two humans and a little dog pass beneath.
A pair of Plantain-eaters pause briefly in a tree top on the grounds of Old Embassy Compound, Monrovia, before cruising on to their next perch. Easily identifiable in flight, the flash of white wing patches snap a staccato accent to their loping pulse and glide, long tails trailing behind like a loose veil.
They like to sit in the tree tops, maybe for the sun, maybe for the breeze, or maybe to keep close watch on the kites, endlessly circling above.
Rising thermals from the sea become a playground for kites. Scores of them soar and dive and play where the sea breeze climbs above the bluffs of Mamba Point in Monrovia. Their screech-and-trill makes me think of whinnying horses.
A game they play repeatedly, to drop a stick from high above, then plummet beneath the tumbling stick, snatching it as it falls. Sometimes a second kite will try to steal from the first, and they twist and dive in acrobatics, skimming out over the sea to rise on the next puff of breeze.
The details surrounding the death of this leopard are unfortunate. According to Elie Tobi, scientist and curator for the Gabon Biodiversity Center in Gamba, the body of this leopard was recovered in November of 2009.
“A leopard was caught by an illegal bushmeat snare set between Hippo Lake and Sette Cama, in the Gamba area of Gabon. The animal struggled fiercely, finally managing to break the spring-pole stick holding him prisoner of the mechanism. Unfortunately, his struggle for freedom became corrupted by a wound to his right front leg. This leopard, now injured, drew behind him a cable attached to the broken piece of wood. Under these conditions, it became impossible to hunt. Weakened by hunger, the animal left the cover of forest, dying, likely of starvation, on Sette Cama Road.
In light of his dire circumstance, it is possible the leopard presented himself along the roadway to escape from other dangers in the forest. Or, it is possible, he offered himself to science, to create a lesson in conservation.”
Wire snares are illegal in Gabon. Snares do not discriminate between protected and unprotected species. Like this leopard, large and powerful animals can tear a snare free of its anchor, dragging the broken cable through the forest while still constricting a limb that will likely become infected and cause crippling injury or death.