It is 7am when we finally reach our point opposite the “grand piste”, our GPS label for an unusually wide forest trail embouchure created by large mammals. Our plan is to sit quietly for two hours, hoping wildlife will approach the trail to forest. Sitting within an edge of marécage, or transition swamp, we are directly across from the trail, 40 meters of savanna away.
We are already late for sunrise, having encountered problems on our track to location. Somewhere in the darkness after leaving camp, we strayed from the primary track, becoming mired in a series of mud ruts that required pushing, aligning sand planks beneath the wheels, wedging branches for traction, and finally readjusting tire pressure. Thirty minutes later we are underway, stopping en route to crawl up on a resting sitatunga, 100 meters off track. A young buck, he was already alert to our approach, crouching half-hidden in the savanna grasses, the glint from a set of horns and profile of back belying his presence. I am within thirty meters before he bolts away, disappearing into a gallery of marécage.
On point, we sit listening to a band of chimpanzees come to order in the forest, less than a kilometer away, hoping, a little unrealistically, that they appear at the forest edge.
By 9am, the heat of sun diminishes our chances of encounter, so we quietly enter the forest trail, immediately surprising a blue duiker, a little forest antelope that flees, bleating into the depth of forest. Inside the forest, the trail splits and merges onto many other trails. We meander among the saccoglottis, ancient trees spreading enormous branches across the canopy, scattering a few monkeys foraging high in the limbs. The forest is perhaps 200 meters wide here, dissolving into inundated marécage thicket, and a submerged savanna beyond. Midway through our walk, we are arrested by a series of penetrating yeowls cutting into the thick, vaporous atmosphere. A leopard, maybe 500 meters away, announces his presence, and we listen midstride, trying to pinpoint the location. We can only hope to see such a magnificent creature.
The trails eventually lead us to a little forest stream cutting a ravine beneath the trees. We pick our way across to another piece of forest, peering out onto a silent savanna from various elephant pistes cutting through the understory.
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