listening to gorillas

7 February, 2012        I am looking for wildlife prints on a stretch of sand exposed by the receding water along the roadway south of Gamba airport. The forest closes in on the road here, the thick west side vegetation growing within a half-metre of the tarmac.  The east side, where I stand, has water in the sandy ditch, holding the encroaching forest at bay.  The forest here appears to be a corridor for wildlife, connecting the forests and savannas surrounding the airport and Vera Plaines region with the forests and lagoons fronting the sea.

Goldie's tree cobra struck south of Gamba airport

Two weekends ago, another cobra was struck by a car crossing between these forests.  A Goldie’s tree cobra, Pseudohaje goldii, lay twisted in the roadway, nearly two metres in length, the brilliant yellow scales of its underside edged in black.

Over my shoulder, I hear something shuffling through the understory of the west side, so I kneel behind a crop of grass, anticipating the possibility of seeing a monitor lizard or hornbill emerge through the understory.  The sound is getting closer, louder, I reconsider; perhaps a duiker or monkey in the undergrowth.  I can see the ginger stalks waving just to the other side of the ditch.  I hear footsteps, a shuffling, then a snapping and crunching of vegetation.  It is a gorilla feeding through, eating the fleshy pink fruits that grow close to the ground at the base of the wild ginger stalks.  The tangy, citrusy flesh and peppery black seeds of these herbs are part of a gorilla diet.  My camera is ready, excitement builds, then suddenly I hear the “pok-pok” of another gorilla 40 yards deeper in the forest, and all grows silent.  A few seconds later, “pok-pok” again, and the feeding gorilla shuffles away toward the other.  There is no element of alarm in their behavior.  No thrashing of tree limbs, no grunts or roars, no crashing off through the understory.  My guess is that the dominant male or female is communicating a direction of travel to the other members of the family group.  I am amazed that I was able to bicycle to this location, walk the ditch, and not alarm the feeding gorilla across the road.  The thickness of the understory here likely prevented either party from seeing the other, and the silence of bicycling once again proves beneficial for a close wildlife encounter. I continue to hear the “pok-pok” for several minutes, before I lose track of the pair.

lowland forest landscapes with open understory often border swamps and lagoons, and provide shelter for elephants, gorillas, monkeys and duikers.

Continuing along the roadway, I come to another thick forest where I plan to install a camera-trap. Gorillas have been seen crossing the roadway here recently.  Picking my way across a muddy ditch, I follow a savanna skirting the edge of this forest, heading for a point where it merges with another forest.

designed to hold prey, the backward-curving teeth set into a python's jaw

200 metres from the road, in thick savanna grass, I notice a few bleached bones, smallish, but then, as I look further, I realize that I am seeing a skeleton of a python, all vertebrae and ribs, twisted in the grasses, the total length of the snake I estimate to be at least four metres.  A jawbone lies exposed on a bit of sand, centimetre-long needle-sharp teeth lining the four-inch bone.  Remnants of reptilian scales held together by traces of skin organize a pattern of ribs. The python looks like it died within the past two or three months, with no indication as to how.  With this discovery, I feel an ominous sense of foreboding; not very scientific, but nonetheless, I pay close attention to the forest edge, watching carefully for ripples in the water pockets, stepping gingerly through the heavy grasses at my feet, half-expecting to meet the rest of the python family out for revenge.  400 metres from the road, the forests meet in a narrow corner bordered by lowland swamp.  A trail winds between the forests, rounds a pool choked with downfall trees, and meanders along the edge of the swamp.  As it is getting late, I search out a tree overlooking this trail and mount the camera two metres above ground, overlooking a thicket of ginger, peering out to the corner of savanna.  If I were  a gorilla, this would be my trail.


2 responses to “listening to gorillas”

  1. David, you are starting to think like the animals in your gorilla blog. You may think that is good but I hope you are able to adjust to the crazy world here when you get back.

    1. Maybe this is the training I need to cope with the world back home. I think Dad would agree…

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