ODZALA PROVIDES AN OASIS OF CALM IN A CHAOTIC REGION. WHILE LOWLAND GORILLA ARE THE HEADLINE SPECIES THE PARK ALSO PROTECTS A SIGNIFICANT POPULATION OF CRITICALLY ENDANGERED FOREST ELEPHANT AS WELL AS MANY OTHER ICONIC RAINFOREST SPECIALISTS, NOTABLY FOREST BUFFALO, BONGO SITATUNGA & RED-RIVER HOG
THIS WEEK-LONG EXPEDITION TAKES YOU SAFELY AND QUICKLY IN TO ONE OF THE LEAST VISITED AND MOST IMPORTANT BIOMES IN ALL OF AFRICA. EXPLORING ON FOOT, BOAT, CANOE AND JEEP, THIS UNUSUALLY VARIED SAFARI ALLOWS YOU TO EXPLORE MULTIPLE DIFFERENT HABITATS
A scheduled charter from the capital Brazzaville takes you to the far north of the country close to the Gabon border. Landing at an airstrip within the park you'll be met by your guide and driven approximately three hours to Ngaga Camp where you'll be give a full briefing by the Western Lowland Gorilla researchers about tracking these iconic apes entails.
I can watch elephants (and elephants alone) for hours at a time, for sooner or later the elephant will do something very strange... There is a mystery behind that masked tray visage, an ancient life force, delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted, commanding the silence ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea”
Sited in the Ndhezi Forest adjacent to Odzala NP Ngaga Camp is primarily about tracking and viewing the Lowland Gorillas although other wildlife, notably vocal chimpanzees, and lots of birdlife can be seen and heard.
TREKKING FOR GORILLA
On both full days that you are here you will accompany a researcher out to locate one of the three habituated gorilla families. The modus operandi of these treks is very different from the Mountain Gorilla experience of Rwanda, Uganda and the DR Congo; there is no advance party, no bleeping radios - just you, your guide and the researcher who will track the gorillas daily and spend an hour noting their behaviour, whether he has clients in tow or not.
Further, Lowland Gorilla tend to be more active aand arboreal than their montane cousins, behaving more like giant chimpanzees, so the experience less about portaiture of the apes and more about observing behaviour.
The treks can be long and the resident stingless-bees bothersome (head net are provided) but the going underfoot generally pretty flat and easy.
When not out goggling gorillas the camp's deck is a great place to watch for monkeys through the canopy. In the absence of large threatening nocturnal predators (which would put a kaibosh to this in most wild places in Africa) Ngaga is an great place to undertake a night walk, looking for seldom seen mammals such as Tree Civet and potto.
Drive through the forest across the park to Mboko Camp, set in the savannah sector. This represents a complete change of scene - set on a small tributary of the nearby Lekoli River - you can often watcg Forest Elephant, hyena and Forest Buffalo from the main deck in camp.
Setting out on a small motor craft in the afternoon is a great way to get views of some of mammals that typically hide out in dense foliage, such as Putty-nosed monkey as well as the forest bee-eaters and kingfishers.
Lango is set in a baï - a large marshy clearing deep in the forest - and there are two options of how to get to the camp. The first is to canoe the Lekoli River to the baï confluence, from where it is no longer navigable by any boat - however small - and from there wade through the knee-deep water for a couple of hours, past inquisitive buffalo and hog, in to camp. This is a great way of getting to grips with how the forest and wetlands merge and is remarkably hazard-free - the local slender-snouted crocodiles being much smaller and more timid than the leviathan Nile Crocs of East and southern Africa.
Raised on decks and set on the edge of the forest looking down on the clearing, Lango gives unparralleled access to observing the comings and goings of life on a baï with regular visitations from herds of Forest Elephants and great flocks of African Grey Parrots all attracted to the mineral-rich soil.
RETURN TO MBOKO
After two nights at Lango you'll return to Mboko and may be grateful for the opportunity for some uninterupted sleep if the Forest Elephants have been crashing and trumpeting directly below your raised room as they often do in the night.
Take a walk in the relatively dry forests or a last excurision out on the river.
RETURN TO BRAZZAVILLE
Fly back to Brazzaville by scheduled charter and explore this charming and friendly city set on the banks of the mighty Congo River just above Stanley's Pools.
A note from Rod
Misconceptions and Misinformation
At three times the size of France, the Central African Rainforests are the largest tropical forest mass after the Amazon and cover a large proportion of the Congo Basin. Unlike the forests of Western Africa and Asia much of this forest is still well preserved, saved in part by the lack of infrastructure caused by the political chaos that reigns over most of the region. So while the area is massive and the wildlife relatively plentiful - an estimated 100,000+ Lowland Gorilla versus less than 1,000 Mountain Gorilla - the opportunity to safely visit and have an excellent odds of encountering this Great Ape as well as Forest Elephant and other star attractions of the rainforest is excedingly limited.
Odzala undoubtedly offers the easies00t and arguably safest access to this amazing ecosystem with the only other real contender being Loango in Gabon. The camps in Odzala are remarkably comfortable, almost incogruously so given the location. and the daily rhythm of the safari day, the food and drink as well as atmosphere of the camps will be familiar to anyone who has been on a first-class safari elsewhere on the continent.
Having ascertained that Odzala might be the place to go should want to experience the African Rainforest the question might be - WHY SHOULD I VISIT AFRICAN RAINFOREST?
The main reason is there is a huge amount to see and importantly, if you go to the right places you will see them - both the key species like Western Lowland Gorilla, Forest Elephant, sitatunga, Forest Buffalo as well as multiple primates, duikers and over 400 species of birds many of which are large, impressive and/or colourful. While it's true you wont see the variety of mammals (other than monkeys) that you can see elsewhere, particularly lacking large antelopes and predators, almost everything that you do see is likely to be new and reange-restricted. Add to this the fact that, by defintion you are off the beaten path and will not encounter any other tourists except those within your own party you have an extraordinarily exclusive experice. Finally, the rainforest itself is singularly beautiful and would arguably be worth seeing even without the birds and beasts.
The next question might be WHAT IS IT LIKE?
This was the greatest revelation to me - having lived most of my life in the pretty pleasant climate of Zambia - high, and bone-dry for over half the year - I'd always assumed that great rainforest that loomed to our north and straddled the equator would be oppressively hot, unbearably humid and alive with insects. In fact none of the above was the case and Odzala's climate is certainly manageble, possibly even pleasant. As for bitey things - I encountered no tsetse fly (the scourge of the wilderness for many), no leeches (despite spending many hours in the water) and remarkably few mosquitoes (for which the normal precautions can be taken). The biggest nuisance are stingless bees (aka Mopane Bee) which as their name suggest are harmless and which occur in suitable habitat from Senegal to South Africa and so are not a solely rainforest hazzard.
To my mind the Central African Rainforest is indisuptably worth seeing. Uniquely Odzala offers the opportunity to do so almost entirely devoid of hardship - and it's far richer in terms of sightings and variety of habitat than I dared dream.
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