A conservation village in the Forest by Jaap Van Der Waarde
A dedicated team of biologists monitors animals from a mirador. The team leader is a 26-year-old woman, Darline, and she shows me her favourite tool in her research: camera traps. All around Pondo bai camera traps have been set up and they catch images of animals, oblivious to the presence of the camera and going about their daily business. In the day: a herd of buffalo, cooling down in a small pond. A troupe of red river hogs, digging for grubs in the forest underground. A gorilla tearing down a termite mound, looking for termites and larvae. In the night: a leopard taking a nap right before the camera, and a 4-meter Nile crocodile returning to the Bek River after a successful hunt on land.
Wait a minute, a 4-meter Nile crocodile, in the same river that I just crossed in a flimsy canoe. Yes indeed, the wildlife is all around you, but you just do not notice. That evening when I go for a bath in the Bek River, I select a shallow stretch and keep an eye out for those mean crocodile eyes. However, crocodile attacks are almost non-existent in these forests and according to the local fisherman; there are at least another two big crocs on this river. I am safe.
I do not see elephants during my 2 days stay at Pondo, we don’t even see traces of them. No dung, no footprints. The elephants indeed have almost all gone. They are anything but safe. Darline shows me some hope, three camera traps have witnessed elephants in the night in the past 9 months. Maybe the elephants will realise soon that Pondo bai is safe now. They may cluster around places like this and Ikouah bai in Nki National Park, as they do in Dzanga Sanga National Park in neighbouring Central African Republic. Once we succeed to stop the poaching, the elephants might return. It is going to take a long time, but with dedicated conservationists like Gilles and Darline, we can succeed.