elephant vs. buffaloes

June 21, 5:30 am      Twilight shrouds the Oanga Plaine as we depart Moulondo into a morning thick with atmosphere.  The low-lying fog obscures all but the closest landmark trees making it difficult to stay on course to Igaru Savanna.  It is the undulating rumble of the Atlantic in the distance that ultimately directs our course.  The pools and inundated tracts of marécage have all but dried.  Where I had previously slogged through knee-deep pools in March and April, the ground is now reduced to a crunching skin of dried vegetation.  The remains of elephant-print puddles conceal pots of syrupy swampwater that threaten to swallow our wellingtons on a misguided step.

Passing through a shallow depression of marécage, a sudden explosion in the vegetation breaks before us.  Running to a clear view, I see the back end of a sitatunga disappear into a veil of fog.  There is no chance to follow, for it is still too dark and the sitatunga, well aware of our presence, will be difficult to approach.  I remain confident that our chances will improve as we trek through the mysteriously thick atmosphere to Igaru Savanna.

The light is filtering softly through a dissipating foggy haze as we arrive on the savanna.  Ribbons of wispy fog ripple low across our path, appearing to float the tiny forest galleries above the grasses of the savanna.  The hours following sunrise are diffused in a shimmering soft light.

Elephants traverse a savanna in front of three attentive buffaloes.

Two hours after leaving Moulondo, we approach the narrow corridor of savanna where the Igaru River begins its course, and, as the savanna clears of fog, Kassa observes a herd of five buffaloes at the forest edge, approximately 500 meters distant.  We quickly traverse savanna to forest, and begin an approach, tree by tree.  One hundred fifty meters before encounter, the buffaloes suddenly scatter, two fleeing immediately into forest, three running wild onto savanna.  An elephant trumpets nearby, and with surprise, we are left wondering what is developing.  Seconds later a juvenile elephant bursts from the edge of forest before us, trunk raised, tail waving, ears flapping; running directly at the three remaining buffaloes.  A bizarre sight to see, the excited elephant turning circles on the savanna in the midst of buffaloes as they scatter and gallop wide around the elephant.  Appearing confused for what to do next, the elephant watches as the buffalo regroup a hundred meters beyond, then decides to give chase again.  The buffaloes easily out-manouver the elephant, loping away only fast enough to outrun the elephant, then stopping as the threat subsides.  This happens once again as the buffaloes move further away, the elephant finally returning to forest.  The buffaloes, now 300 meters beyond, hold their ground.  Back at the forest edge, three elephants now appear; a mother and infant, and the juvenile.  We sneak an approach to better vantage, hoping to observe the elephants.  Without provocation, the elephants begin exiting the forest onto savanna.  A single-file procession of, in all, six elephants begin their march across the savanna directly before us.  A bizarre sight, made even more astounding with the addition of the three buffalo observing in the distant beyond.

Three buffaloes cautiously approach our position, attempting to reunite with the herd inside the forest.

Not knowing wether to follow the elephants or attend to the buffaloes, we wait for the elephants to disappear, concurring that the buffaloes appear to be awaiting cue.  No sooner are the elephants across the savanna, and the buffaloes begin approaching our position.  The story seems to unfold that the buffaloes, separated from two of their herd, are intent to regroup with their kin now behind us in the forest.  As we watch in amazement, the three buffaloes approach our position to within 50 meters before alerting to our scent drifting onto the savanna in the remains of an ocean breeze.  They stand seemingly puzzled by the complexity of their situation before finally retreating slowly across the savanna, perhaps to wait for a better opportunity to cross to forest.

Butterfly on the savanna.

By now the sun is burning through the remnants of morning haze.  We decide that this corner of savanna so rich in wildlife deserves our attention.  Upon further investigation, we place a camera trap where several trails converge on a marsh bordering sea-forest before continuing down the savanna.

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