5:30am, leaving camp with my guide, we walk out into the moisture-laden air of twilight, a faint glow in the eastern horizon balanced by a shimmering amber sky from Shell Terminal in Gamba, a distant 60 kilometers away. Frogs and crickets are lively on this otherwise quiet morning. A wet savanna beneath as we enter our first pool 40 meters from Moulondo camp. These aren’t little pools, they stretch narrow ribbons for kilometers across the savanna, deep enough to inundate my wellingtons within seconds, and immediately we are pushing through knee deep water, then onto a patch of dry savanna, where we tip like pumpjacks to drain our wellies before the next pool. By the time we are 300 meters from camp, we have crossed a half-dozen pools. Ahead, we negotiate strips of submerged marécage vegetation, narrow swamps of trees and shrubs beautifully tranquil with perfect reflections in their shadowed interior but for a few fish rippling the surface. We are careful to pick our crossings, for the water here can be waist deep if we happen to step into an elephant track, making balance problematic. I resign myself to being wet for the rest of the day. Sloshing and trudging for two kilometers, we approach the final savanna bordering a forest fronting the sea, looking for buffaloes, elephants, sitatungas, whatever mammals might be using the savanna this morning. Locating a concealed point of vegetation, we sit quietly in the sunrise for an hour or two, scanning the savannas, listening for a crackle of branches, hoping a herd of buffaloes will happen by.
Shortly after sunrise, three buffaloes materialize on the savanna, two weaving through the edge of forest and the third grazing onto the savanna. Crossing savanna quickly, we slip into the forest behind the animals, following narrow trails lacing the forest edge. From pieces of cover protruding into the savanna, we close the distance until suddenly an explosion of branches and sloshing water indicates our cover is blown. Perhaps 15 meters into the forest the vegetation shudders. For chilling seconds we don’t know if buffaloes are crashing our direction or retreating. Running quickly onto the savanna, I am intent on locating the third animal, which suddenly bursts onto savanna 50 meters ahead, galloping through saturated grasses before skidding to a stop, oxpeckers rolling along her back like a string of cowboys.
Spinning slowly, the buffalo appears inquisitive, apparently unable to locate the source of trouble that so upsets the others. I freeze with camera to face as she locks in on my silhouette, but, perhaps because I stand unmoving, she is unable to determine my threat. Finally tossing her head to scatter a few oxpeckers, she lumbers away, angling oblique for reentry into the forest.
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