They All Gather at the Salt Lick
In the afternoon we go to see the forest elephants at the salt lick. It is on the way there that our guide gives us the instructions mentioned at the beginning of this article. But what is the salt lick? It is a huge clearing where the ground is full of mineral salts that are the delight of certain animals. For this reason it is a daily meeting place for forest elephants, buffalo, antelope, giant forest hogs, and other wild animals.
As the forest is very dense, making it extremely difficult to see the animals here, the park has constructed a mirador, or observation platform, at the edge of the salt lick. However, to get to the platform, we have to cross a swamp with water that reaches up to the middle of our thighs. Our guide listens carefully to the noises around us and also regularly makes sure that we are staying close to him. Why? Because the elephants sometimes take the same path!
Once we arrive at the mirador, we take time to look at the animals?more than 80 elephants, some buffalo, and a few antelope. A scientist who has studied the elephants for 11 years is also here. She tells us: "Each one has its own personality. I have indexed 3,000, and I know 700 of them by name." Unfortunately, the ivory of the forest elephant is extremely desirable for making personalized seals that are used in some countries in the Orient to identify the author of documents and paintings.#
How to Hunt With Nets
Early the next morning, we follow a group of ten hunters to see with our own eyes how to hunt with a net. Men and women come with their nets made from lianas. Each net measures about 65 feet [20 m] by 4 feet [120 cm]. As we penetrate deeper and deeper into the jungle, the group spread out and pull tight the nets, which they have fastened one to the other, so that they cover a distance of over 600 feet. Then our hunters make a big circle around this barrier, and while retracing their steps, they shake branches and cry out loud to drive the animals, if there are any, into the nets. This time, there were no animals. The hunters undo the nets, go deeper into the forest, and start all over again. Once, twice, ten times.
By the end of the morning, we are exhausted. The Pygmies have seen three blue duikers, small antelope, but these managed to avoid the nets and escape. We are not interested in seeing an animal caught in the nets. Rather, we want to learn about the ingenious ways these people survive even when they seem to have so little to work with and none of the tools of the industrialized world. Thus, we are not at all disappointed, since what we just witnessed was extraordinary.
A Dugout Ride on the Sangha River
Who would not like to glide silently through the water? In a dugout it is even more interesting, as you are practically at the same level as the water. Our ride in the afternoon takes us to see gray herons and numerous other multicolored birds, each one more beautiful than the last. Some of the birds fly from branch to branch along the riverbank, giving the impression that they are following us as we glide through the water.
In places, we watch the chimpanzees jumping from one vine to another solely for amusement?or maybe they want to amuse us! Alain Patrick, the boatman, is working hard to take us several hundred yards farther, as yesterday he saw some hippopotamuses there. Will we be able to see them today? Sadly, no. They have moved away. On the other hand, this extra distance allows us to see several villages along the edge of the river and to admire the many children maneuvering their little dugouts with surprising skill. Truly, we will never forget our ride in the dugout on the Sangha River.
Our Impressions on the Return Home
During our drive back to Bangui, hundreds of sights and memories replay in our minds. Many things have profoundly moved us, while others have astounded us. In particular, we will never forget the harmony between the Pygmies and the forest or the wisdom that allows the Pygmies to benefit from all that is found in their natural habitat.
Moreover, even if we did not have enough time to see everything, we had the privilege of visiting a unique part of the world, where forest elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, hippopotamuses, antelope, panthers, and multicolored birds and butterflies can be found. We were told that the dense forests of the Dzanga-Sangha Reserve and the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park shelter some 7,000 species of plants and 55 species of mammals.