Republic of Congo
By Gaël R. Vande weghe
Part 3 - December 2016
Odzala National Park is very large, and most of the touristic infrastructure is located in the Southern end of the park, in the forest savanna mosaic of Mboko and Lango. The south, however isn’t representative of the entire park, and there was a lot more to discover in the north. I hoped to go beyond regular paths at least once. Up north, along the Mambili River, there are large forest bais, regularly visited by elephants and gorillas. These bais weren’t easily accessible at the time of my visit, but that could change in the near future, if all goes well. Further north and west of the park, there were old forests, and on the western border, a large cliff with the promises of unique biodiversity. The oldest forests are always the special ones, with very large old trees, distinctive life-forms, rare insects and birds, and unique plants. We weren’t going to reach that far at the time, but I hoped that one day it would be possible.
For our last visit of the park, we tried to forge ahead in different forests for a few days. We were travelling on the Lekoli on a small boat, until it reached the Mambili and then going as far as we could north, close to other bais. Essentially, we were trying to have a feel of the forest gradient along the rivers, from the wetlands of Lango – comprised of Phoenix palms, Uapaca and Dracaena trees – to the taller riparian and swamp forests.
Swamp forest along the Lekoli.
Lékoli river and overarching trees.
Brazza Monkey | Cercopithecus neglectus
Common but hard to see in the riparian and swamp forests aroun Mboko.
I had been on many rivers in Central Africa. In many places, rivers are the only way to reach certain areas. They all look superficially similar, but are not. Some have black waters, some are narrow with tall trees, some are massive and wide, with smaller trees or papyrus edges. Sometimes, the navigation is in mountainous areas, and other times, we have had to avoid waterfalls.
The Lekoli river, close to Mboko, was quite narrow, with relatively short vegetation and trees that are only about 20 meters high on average. It was also part of a larger wetland systems, with palms trees, swamp forests and inundated marshes. Catching a glimpse of rare animals was possible. Brazza Monkeys were common but particularly shy on the branches above the river. We managed to see a number of them, always in pairs and disappearing fast. The little Talapoin, sometimes in very large groups, completely eluded us. In some meanders, a lone elephant was often present and small herds of buffaloes were often seen when the vegetation was very low.
Forest Buffalos | Syncerus nanus
Along the Lékoli.
Forest Elephant | Loxodonta cyclotis
On the edge of the Lekoli
Swamp forests along the Mambili.
Long-snouted Crodocile | Mecistops cataphractus
Agile Mangabey | Cercocebus agilis
The Lekoli then would join the Mambili River and the forest became taller, at least for a significant part of the journey.
Navigating on forested rivers can be quite monotonous, and it felt like we were going up along endless curtains of vegetation. It required some skills as well, as our pilot was particularly attentive to small hints of submerged large branches which could damage the engine. We still had a surprise or two.
All along, the forest was full of life however, and every single branch, whether broken and half in the water, or high up in the trees could have something on it. Slender-snouted Crocodiles, although usually numerous, were few during our ride, but this was largely due to high water levels.
The usual fauna was present, with White-throated Blue Swallows, Giant Kingfishers, an occasional Banded Water Cobra, Monitor Lizards, and plenty of Hornbills, Turacos and other birds. We had the chance to surprise a large group of Agile Mangabeys, particularly curious about us, a bunch of apes on a weird looking thing on a river, were there is usually nobody.
Forest Monitor Lizard | Varanus ornatus
White-throated Blue Swallow | Hirundo nigrita
One of the most typical bird of the central african forested rivers.
Along the Mambili.
High up on the Mambili, the river became quite wide, with a wetland system similar to that around Mboko and Lango. The vegetation became lower, Uapaca heudelotii trees and their aerial roots, became dominant. This was as far as we would go that time and we camped on small base. Already there were some significant differences in the surrounding forests, and I saw many butterflies that I hadn’t seen in the south. Could have been seasonal differences or local differences or different forests… I don’t know. And I wouldn’t find out then. There were plenty of Elephant trails, Pig trails, Gorillas, and even Bongos. Odzala is blessed with wildlife and one can explore forever. But it was the end of our trip and, once again, after lengthy visits in an African forest, I felt like we had only scratched the surface.
End of part 3.
Common Red Glider | Cymothe coccinata
A rather uncommon butterfly in Lower Guinea, despite the name.
Sunset on the Lékoli.