April 26 6:15am We are minutes late to intercept a herd of seven forest buffalo as they cross the primary savanna in front of us. With a gallery between us, we run, hoping to find them at the end of the gallery, but they are tipped off. Thundering off in a wide circle, they stop to identify us before marching single file to the continuous forest fronting the sea.
To add additional frustration, a large sitatunga buck crosses the savanna behind us, heading for the inland swamps. We try to push it between us, but it has disappeared into thick swamp for the day.
Continuing down the savanna, we plan to recover two camera traps set weeks earlier. We circle small galleries sprouting like islands on a river of savanna. I spot a female sititunga on the savanna edge, perhaps 300 meters away. Using a gallery for cover, I approach to within 150 meters, and from here begin crawling on hands and knees for the final distance. She eventually notices my movement on the savanna. Without fleeing, she begins stalking to a downwind location to figure my threat. By now I am 30 meters away, and have run out of cover, so I stand before her to shoot above the grasses as she bolts for the cover of forest.
Resuming our trek, the savanna narrows to 40 meters between bordering forests. The forest inland contains headwaters for River Igaru, and is a natural pass for wildlife crossing the savannas to the sea.
Fifty meters in front of us, two elephants enter the narrow savanna from Igaru forest, yet unaware of our presence. Kneeling in the open savanna, I begin shooting as the two elephants approach. Within 15 seconds they pick up our scent. The juvenile slams to a stop, trunk reaching high into the air. The adult nearly trips over her feet as they stumble backwards into forest. We quietly and carefully continue on our way as two more elephants cross the savanna 100 meters to our front. They cross to the sea forest and disappear. Several minutes later, another elephant approaches us from Igaru forest, a surprised encounter at twenty meters, before retreating quickly back to forest. It is unreal how quietly these beasts can move on the savanna, not unlike watching a silent movie.
It has been a good morning for spotting wildlife. We locate the game trail into Igaru forest and enter to retrieve the camera trap, feeling the presence of elephants as we tread lightly along the trail. Fresh elephant sign alerts us to every crackle in the forest, every flicker of light.
The second camera is positioned at a forest-savanna-marecage transition. Trails crossing here indicate use by buffaloes, red river hogs, and sitatungas. We gather our gear and begin the final six kilometers to Moulondo; a sweltering return under the intense heat of midday sun.