gorillas, a mamba, and the Ozouga forest

The rains are slowly re-establishing a weather pattern.  Mostly after dark, they fluctuate with intensity, starting with a barely perceptible mist, progressing to a tin-roof pounding thunder, then backing to undulating sheets of varying intensity.  This means my garden doesn’t need daily watering with a hose, as it did in January.  We had our first (meager) harvest of cilantro, a little ahead of schedule, and the passion fruit vines are attaching to my trellis.  Peppers are growing steadily, as are collard greens, basil and ruccola.  I lost the pineapple top planted last week when an elephant ran off with it in the night, tipping my trellis in the act, reminding me to construct my soda-can fence.  The seeds from my feral melons have sprouted quickly, but I fear they will attract more elephants when the fruits are ripening.

Sunday we took Elle for a morning walk on the beach.  We got an early start, hoping to return late morning for crepes.  Approximately 11:15am we were driving back from Colas beach, and, while passing through the first gallery of forest along the roadway, we were surprised to see a gorilla, all knuckles and swing, ambling across the road.  It was a female, larger than I expected, with long, shaggy black and grizzled hair.  Lisa noticed a baby riding her back.  She took a backward glance at us midstride, before disappearing into the vegetation across the road.  We stopped the car immediately, as we thought it possible there might be more to follow, but shortly after stopping we could hear the screaming and hooting of the rest of the troop as they warned of our presence.  There have been several sightings of gorillas in this area over the past few months.  Hopefully my camera trap, a few kilometres up the road, will be ready when they pass through.

Monday afternoon I took my Hasselblad to the golf course to photograph some abstract details on an oxidized sign.  The afternoon was beautiful with high hazy clouds.  An occasional rumble of distant thunder spilled from a wall of stormclouds building inland, the encroaching storm pulling a cooling breeze over the trees from the sea.  Patches of sunlight crept across the fairways and out over the lake, spotlighting  an eagle as it circled overhead to gain altitude before slipping into the distant haze.

The golf course lies between Yenzi camp and Lake Yenzi, and the connecting road crosses a creek fed by Lake Yenzi overflow.  A swamp forest crowds one side of the creek and drier forest occupies a hillier landscape on the other.  Elephants, monkeys, and the occasional gorilla have been seen crossing the road between forests here, and today my eye caught the unmistakable contour of a snake basking in the sun along the edge of this forest.  It is five metres from the road, and lies in a patch of sand, glistening in the warm sunlight.  The beautiful two-metre snake has a rich blue-green back, brilliant yellow tail and yellow-green belly, its scales emphasized in black outline.  Stopping as quickly as I could, I have my camera nearly ready when it senses my presence, and, with raised head, glides quickly and effortlessly back into the forest, disappearing within seconds.  Upon returning home, I look up the identification in “Reptiles du Gabon”, and on page 183 learn that I have seen a Jameson’s mamba, Dendroaspis jamesoni jamesoni, another highly venomous snake of the cobra family.  It is mistakenly thought to attack without provocation, but in actuality, would rather flee to cover of the forest when surprised, as it so demonstrated, and will only attack if harassed or cornered.  It is fast and agile, at home in the trees as well as open ground.  I remember seeing a similar mamba one year ago (elephants at Sette Cama, 2011, Feb-03) and wrote about the experience, noting how quickly it slid to cover.   It is sometimes confused with or called a green mamba, which, I have since learned is not present in the Gamba region.

Ozouga trees dominate some forests, growing to 60 metres tall with trunks two metres in diameter.

Wednesday I spent the afternoon exploring a forest across a savanna from the road to Myanomi, about 10 kilometres from Yenzi.  I could see several tall Ozouga trees (Sacoglottis gabonensis) towering above the forest from the tarmac.  Their limbs spread over and through the forest canopy in massive arches.  Leathery leaves carpet the forest floor, smothering the understory to create an open zone beneath their crown. They can grow to be 60 metres tall, with furrowed, shaggy trunks more than two metres in diameter.  Ozouga trees produce small green fruits the size of plums that fall to the forest floor when ripe and are eaten by elephants.  The forest floor is a series of elephant trails winding from Ozouga to Ozouga; everywhere, elephant dung full of the fruit pits, left behind from the fruiting season in September-October.  A few minutes after entering the forest, I can hear rustling and scurrying in the treetops, and warning coughs and chirps of several species of monkeys cut through the constant buzzing of crickets.  Broken sunlight fractures down through the canopy,  creating a glow reminiscent of cathedral lighting.  The elephant trails follow ridges overlooking pockets in the landscape that are likely to fill with rainwater as the rains return.  It is a most interesting and accessible forest, one to which I will plan return visits.

years of accumulating Ozouga leaves smother the understory beneath Ozouga trees

One response to “gorillas, a mamba, and the Ozouga forest”

  1. David, your sightings are more and more varied and interesting. I think that I will share your website with the Pecks.

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