General News - November 2011
Congo rainforest safari - 17 November 2011
Join Zambezi Safari on a 3 or 6 night journey through the magnificent African rainforest and enjoy the thrill of seeing the western lowland gorilla in his natural habitat.
Two camps nestled in the trees 3 to 4 m above the ground level allow full appreciation of the forest canopy. International access is easy on Air France via Paris, Inter Air via Johannesburg or Kenya Airways via Nairobi.
WESTERN LOWLAND GORILLA
There are two species of gorilla found in Africa, the Western Gorilla Gorilla gorilla and the Eastern Gorilla Gorilla beringei. The Eastern Gorilla consists of two subspecies, the well-known Mountain Gorilla G. b. beringei of Uganda and Rwanda, and the Eastern Lowland Gorilla G. b. graueri of the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Both of these subspecies are considered Endangered. The Western Gorilla also consists of two subspecies, the Western Lowland Gorilla G. g. gorilla principally of Congo (Brazzaville) and Gabon, and the little known Cross River Gorilla G. g. diehli of the border region between Cameroon and Nigeria. Both of these subspecies are considered Critically Endangered as a result of commercial bushmeat hunting, disease epidemics and habitat loss. The very slow rate of reproduction accentuates all these effects.
It is the Western Lowland Gorilla that occurs in Odzala and is found here at the highest densities so far recorded for the species. In the area of Ngaga Camp Western Lowland Gorillas live in groups ranging in size from 10 to 25 individuals (average 16-17 animals), usually with one silverback, maybe 5-7 adult females and then a collection of sub-adults, babies and sometimes subordinate males. In this high density area, home range size is between just less than 4km2 and just over 8km2 (average 5-6km2 or 2 square miles). Movements within the home range depend on seasonal utilization of key food types. Staple foods for example include leaves, shoots and plant material, but the seasonal availability of fruit is crucial in the diet and influences group foraging movements.
Born at 2kg (4.5lbs), female Western Lowland Gorillas will grow to around 70kg (150lbs) in weight, while the much larger males might reach 180kg (390lbs) and stand 1.8m (6 feet) in height.
Western Lowland Gorillas can be observed in two different ways while in Odzala: either through tracking habituated groups using the impressive skills of our expert local Mbeti trackers (Okoko Zepherin and Okele Gabin), or by patiently waiting at hides on the edge of forest bais for family groups to forage on the sedges (water-loving grasses) there.
As a result of the work done by gorilla researchers Dr Magda Bermejo and German Illera, a number of habituated groups can be tracked and observed in the area around Ngaga Camp. In this extended 30km2 (11.5 square miles) area there are no fewer than 7 groups totalling 105 individual gorillas. Two of these groups are usually accessed by our guests while a third is observed primarily for research purposes. Other groups are also seen on a regular basis.
Given that Ngaga Camp is situated at an overlap between the home ranges of three different gorilla groups and close to another three, tracking expeditions do not cover enormous distances and can range in length from 1-8km (0.5-5 miles) over undulating country. The undergrowth can be thick however and, including the time spent with a gorilla group, excursions can last between 2 and 5 hours.
Gorilla viewing protocol is based on the guidelines issued by the IUCN for great ape viewing and is very similar to that of Rwanda/Uganda. Protocols are designed specifically to limit behavioural impact and also potential disease transmission from humans to gorillas. They are critical for gorilla conservation.
• Minimum age for gorilla viewing is 15 years – this is for reasons of safety but also for possible disease transmission, with children under this age more prone to infection.
• Maximum proximity to gorillas is 7 metres (22 feet). It is not permitted to approach more closely and we typically view the animals at 10-15m (32-50 feet).
• Maximum viewing duration of any group is 1 hour per day. Each group is only visited once per day, but if guests would like to spend more than an hour with gorillas on a particular day and time allows it is possible to track a different group following the first encounter.
• Maximum number of guests per gorilla tracking excursion is 6.
• Guests that display cold, flu or other respiratory tract symptoms, will not be allowed to track gorillas.
• No food is permitted on gorilla tracking excursions, nor is smoking allowed. Hand washing facilities are provided at Ngaga Camp prior to gorilla tracking.
• While gorilla sightings and encounters are very reliable, viewing is dependent on variables such as weather and tracking conditions.
Viewing of birds and mammals in tropical forests anywhere in the world can be challenging. The dense environment and slow-going through the undergrowth means that a great guide with a comprehensive knowledge of behaviour and calls is essential to get the best sightings. Odzala is blessed as a result of containing numerous habitats, from dense primary forest to forest fringe, savannah, wide, languid rivers and forest bais and salines. As a result diversity is high and the rivers and bais in particular allow the ‘green curtain’ of the forest to be pulled back and allow our guests an insight into this spectacular ecosystem.
While many of our visitors will no doubt be attracted principally by the opportunity to observe Western Lowland Gorillas, this giant ape that shares more than 97% of its DNA with humans, is not the only inhabitant of the forest and its bais. Below we describe the quality of sightings of a few of the key species likely to be encountered on an Odzala expedition.
Read more about the Congo