by Peter Ngea
When a freelance journalist visited the Nki National Park in the southeast of Cameroon in the early 1990s, she was so dazzled by what she saw that she described the place as “the last true wilderness." In her description, Jemini said, “Nki is a special environment with much of it still unexplored while new discoveries are still being made." She was prophetic.
Football pitch in the forest
As recently as early April 2006, a WWF team was combing the forest in the northwest part of Nki in search of elephant groups when they came across what now seems to be the largest forest clearing or bai in the subregion. For the experts in the team, like Dr. Mike Loomis from the North Carolina Zoo—all of whom are widely traveled in the forests of the central Africa region—this clearing, called Ikwa, was special. “When I first saw Ikwa Bai with 21 elephants and 16 buffalos in it at the same time, it instantly brought Dzanga Sangha Bai to mind. Ikwa Bai is somewhat larger than Dzanga Sangha Bai,” confirms Loomis.
|Ikwa Bai: An Eyewitness Account
When I first saw Ikwa Bai with 21 elephants and 16 buffalos in it at the same time, it instantly brought Dzanga Sangha Bai to mind. Ikwa Bai is somewhat larger than Dzanga Sangha bai, It has a stream with a hard bed of sand and rocks running through the center of it. The bai is fairly moist and difficult to walk in except in the river. There is a large mineral pit in the bai adjacent to the river. We watched several elephants dig and eat the soil from the pit. The elephants seem to be very drawn to the bai. Even after several darts were fired at the elephants, they kept returning to the bai. It appears that there has not been much human activity in the area. The buffalos pretty much ignored us until we approached very close to them. We were also able to closely approach a small group of elephants in the bai. We heard chimpanzees around the bai several times a day. There was an old (several days) chimp nest in our camp. Gorillas are also in the area. One gorilla approached very close to our camp before he was chased away by the Baka. In addition to the already mentioned animals, there are a number of monkey and duiker species in the area. We saw bongo tracks. Although I did not see sitatunga tracks, I would assume that they are in the area also.
I think the bai has tremendous potential for ecotourism. There is a small hill overlooking the bai that would be a great spot for a mirador!
--Dr. Mike Loomis
Imagine trekking for two days in the depths of a pristine forest with only occasional sun rays that sometimes defy the dense canopy to penetrate and slightly mock the darkness that is characteristic of these evergreen forests. Then ahead of you there is a sudden opening—like three football fields put together. There in the cool of the stream (and sometimes mud) that runs across the flat and grass-covered terrain, you see herds of buffalo and elephants (and sometimes bongos and sitatungas). This is enough to keep you spellbound for a few minutes. This is how it felt for the WWF team of about 25 that included a couple of Bakas who were instrumental in guiding the team’s exploration to that part of the forest. Why has this wildlife sanctuary eluded many in the past?
Untouched forest and wildlife
A trip to Nki on the River Dja definitely offers an opportunity to observe one of the most remote and relatively untouched parts of the Congo basin forest. Unlike Lobeke and to some extent Boumba Bek, Nki forest remains quite intact and away from the aggressive chainsaws of logging companies. Its protection from logging has been imposed by nature rather than anything else. Nki forest is hilly and devoid of human habitation. It would require a lot of investment to develop necessary infrastructure, such as roads, for logging operations, especially in the southern portion of Nki. The forest area provides a unique opportunity to view nature in its true and primitive form. The wide range of species in the area still goes through the basic rudimentary evolutionary processes not influenced by man’s alteration of habitats to meet eccentric needs.
Studies carried out by various researchers clearly indicate the high biological diversity in the area. For example, the Boumba Bek and Nki forest block that covers more than 600,000 hectares (1.5 million acres) harbours an elephant density of about 2.5 animals per square kilometer, yielding an estimated population of more than five thousand elephants. Other important species of conservation significance include gorillas (Gorilla g. gorilla), chimpanzee, (Pan t. troglodytes), Buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus), bongo (Tragelaphus euryceros) and host of other forest antelopes. There are also various diurnal primate species—notably the highly threatened crested monkey (Cercocebus galeritus), De Brazza monkey (Cercopithecus neglectus) and the black colobus (Colobus satanas) whose eastern limit is said to be the Dja River.
About the author:
Peter Ngea is the Communication Manager for the World Wildlife Fund - Central African Region.
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