March 3 I have spent another morning working on a new video for World Malaria Day, featuring Drs. Regine and Andrew of the Clinique Herve Morand here in Yenzi. The video is an interview by Ghislain about precautionary measures for the local and expatriate community to reduce malaria exposure. It is a new skill set for me and I am excited to learn film-making techniques and editing procedures. But my desk sits beneath a picture window and the beautiful day unfolding proves irresistible and so by 12:30 I am bicycling back to the Ozouga forest to poke around in a new location I hiked last Wednesday with Angelique, a friend from Holland visiting my neighbor Jasmine.
We had discovered a few large trees that would be a nice addition to my photographic adventure in the forest. The Ozouga forest walk is becoming popular here in Gamba and members of the PhotoClub have been signing on for the walk. By the time I reach the forest today, the sun is steaming hot and the near 100 percent humidity inside the forest soaks clothing and skin. The forest is sleepy in the afternoon heat, occasionally disturbed by the distant coughing alarm of mangebeys and the lazy chirping of crickets. The accumulation of leaves on the forest floor glisten like wet leather. I move along the trail nearly silent in the muffling humidity, passing under a troop of putty-nose monkeys that, rather than hiding in alarm, move slowly overhead, pausing to watch my progress with curiosity. By 4pm the clouds have returned and a distant rumble of thunder suggests an approaching storm. The forest is now becoming too dark under the building clouds to consider more photographs, and so I work my way to the savanna and out into a refreshing breeze. Two sets of recent buffalo tracks follow the forest edge, possibly from the night before. I stop to make some photographs near a set of water pockets, finally returning to my bike by 5:30.
Back on the tarmac, I am biking through a forest pass and there is a sudden confusion of putty-nosed monkeys chipping and scuttling through the trees in the middle of which a palm-nut vulture lobs into the air space above the road, a striking mosaic of black and white plumage chopping heavy through the air. Gathering speed, it gains distance ahead of me and eventually veers across the road to disappear through a forest opening.
As the day slides into evening, I pass a narrow savanna and pedal through another forest fragment, trees closing in on my left, the end of the quiet Gamba airstrip approaching on my distant right. A rustling of leaves and snapping limbs captures my attention as I pass a stand of trees twenty-five metres to my left. I see movement, leaves flashing along a limb flexing six metres above the forest floor, and now I make out a body of long, thick, grizzled-black hair traversing a horizontal limb. I stop immediately for a better view, and see what looks like two animals moving in synchronicity. Before my eyes the movements merge and I see the muscled haunches of a gorilla, its feet wrapped securely around a limb bending precariously under its weight. A surprisingly long arm, dripping with shocks of hair reaches for the tree trunk, its large, vaulted head and penetrating eyes turn my way and in one fluid motion the gorilla swings from limb to trunk, descending the six metres in a fraction of a second, eyes flashing and a snarl hurled my way to signal his displeasure that I have caught him out in such a visible location. He crashes back into the shadows of the forest, stopping momentarily, the forest suddenly still as a photograph in the heavy evening air, then resumes his retreat as the crunching of limbs and leaves fade into the forest. I’m left breathless, blinking in disbelief at such an incredibly fortunate sighting.
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