Dzanga Bai – where everyone gets along..

Ten metres below, an elephant is blowing bubbles. One of a group of 12 dusty brown forest elephants, she is relaxing at the salt mud flats at Dzangha Bai.  I have just walked and waded for half an hour through the forest led to this Bai ( a grassy clearing within the forest) the centre of which is traversed by a slow-moving stream, a mineral source dug into pools and pits by a continuous series of visiting elephant groups, who may return for several days but then not revisit for a year or more.  Sadly the number of large male elephants is decreasing  particularly rapidly due to poaching for ivory, but today more than fifty juvenile and female elephants will come and enjoy a share of minerals…

A family of 7 elephants, including 2 small juveniles who have been enjoying the mud for the past hour, appear suddenly startled by something ‘off stage’ and hurry into the forest. Within 30 seconds they are swallowed by the forest, quietly disappearing without trace.  Such is the panorama unfolding from our seat within a wooden hide set in the trees 10 metres above the ground, resembling nothing more than a constantly changing stage set evolving as we watch.  Now stage right another family group of elephants, 2 adult, 2 ‘teenage’ and 1 juvenile, silently enter the Bai, while a pair of Marabou Storks wander slowly over to join a second pair at the rear of the ‘stage’ just in front of the treeline.

The slow dance of  comings and goings continues as we watch from the comfort of seats up on the platform. Comfortable, that is apart from ‘sweat bees’ (miniature bees, the size of tiny fruit flies, which build up along with our perspiration). Andrea, a Swiss pharmacist, who has been heading on annual adventures to Africa for the past decade dons her facenet, and it is not long before I follow her lead. Facenets,while most unflattering, are highly functional –  my face is now bee-free though my hands and arms are soon covered.  As a group of Giant Forest Hogs snuffle their way out of the forest, rootling around under the trees centre stage the bees are instantly forgotten and I can’t believe my luck at being here, in a place a few months ago I had never even heard of, watching this extraordinary panorama of african animals. For years I have played one of my own childhood board games, ‘Wildlife’, with my girls; today the board game has come to life!


Back at the scene unfolding below, by 2pm forty-eight elephants are gathered in different groups, the small herd of Giant Forest hogs continues to snuffle around the periphery, while the herd of Bongos  barely move as they luxuriate in the mud. The buffaloes too appear set in peacefully for the afternoon. A pair of Colobus monkeys appear, one a mother carrying her baby.  One Bongo joins the elephants for a time, while one juvenile elephant leaves the main group to explore further afield, returning in a rush ( well, for an elephant) to mum.  The only sounds of disharmony come occasionally from the older elephant matrons who appear to tire of the antics of the ‘teenagers’ when they come too close and growl at their behaviour.  No wonder

The Bongos ears flap constantly, but mine regrettably don’t. Although the face net works well, the quantity of tiny sweat bees on my hands and now having found their way up my sleeves is becoming a wearing tickle and it is nearly time to head home. But then a mother elephant and small baby slip in from the forest, accompanied by an older sister. Aunty is highly protective, flanking the cute youngsteras they approach another mud-wading family group. Another mother and juvenile finally give up the salt hole they have been enjoying for the past 3 hours and wander across to meet with a group off towards ‘stage left’.   All in all it feels much like a sunny Sunday afternoon at Mission Bay, and I have a vision of family groupings of different cultures, arriving throughout the day to enjoy the same destination in their unique own way.  As we head back through the forest, I can’t help feeling we could learn much from this vision of ‘multicultural’  harmony…..


One comment

  1. Wish I could come and see all the animals coming and going! Not sure a round of Wildlife will be anywhere near as good. Especially if I get stuck with a crappy zoo…


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