Friday, November 30, 2007
Closeup of a King Protea just coming into full bloom.
A view of the sculpture garden where we had a picnic lunch
We even found a mermaid! I love how prolific and pervasive the mermaid myth is all over the world.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
After our tour, we had lunch and then Ken suggested we hike up to a dam to go for a swim. After a short drive in the car we walked along a dirt road through the fynbos, the local name for the unique floral kingdom that is here in southern S. Africa. This is where proteas come from and we several beautiful yellow and red species, as well as many other amazing flowering plants (mostly shrub size). The dam has created a small lake at the top of a hill and there are beautiful rock formations there (pic below). The water was really cold so I could manage getting in to about my knees!
Fynbos and mountain view as we hiked back from the dam.
On Sunday I walked all around the waterfront in Capetown, went to the Aquarium (really great creative exhibits) and got up close to some Cape fur seals resting in the harbor. You'll note that the big male in the center has a packing strap caught around his neck. Unfortunately there was no way I could remove it. And now the conference begins, so it's back to work for awhile! But great to be here and see friends and colleagues as well as the amazing scenery and wildlife!
Friday, November 23, 2007
Tonight Tim and I fly to Cape Town, South Africa to attend the Society of Marine Mammalogy biennal conference. I'll present my Gabon manatee research as a scientific poster at a Sirenian Workshop before the main conference, as well as in an oral presentation at the main conference. The thought of speaking to 500 people is more than a bit intimidating, especially when the data is preliminary. But I've been happily surprised at the amount of interest my Gabon research has generated by organizers of this conference- I was actually invited to give 3 talks and had to decline some of them because I just don't have enough information yet to split it into separate 15 minute talks. There is so little research going on with W. African manatees and the scientific community seems starved for data, so it's good to get the information out there and hopefully this conference will lead to support of more work down the road.
Here's a miniture preview of the poster, sorry I can't load a larger image! Hopefully after the conference I can create a link to a downloadable version.
I'll post updates from Cape Town and look forward to seeing some of you there!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
On my last night at Iguela, I was invited into the village to watch a Bwiti ceremony. Bwiti is a West African religion where participants chew the Eboga plant to hallucinate and communicate with their ancestors. They do elaborate dances with fire, flinging it (and themselves) around wildly, all while wearing grass costumes. At some points they even purposely lit their costumes on fire briefly and as they whirl around sparks go everywhere. It was very cool to see.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
On Sunday we went south to the Rembo Rabi River, which drains into the lagoon. I went several miles up this river last year, but this time we went way up and now that the rainy season is in full swing, I was able to see the flooded forest for the first time. It is amazing- the river channel was 8 meters deep, the banks are completely flooded and the water in the forest is 1-5m deep! It's easy to imagine a manatee swimming among the trees, eating fruits that have fallen or overhanging leaves. There were also a few open swampy areas with grasses and other plants they like to eat. We didn't see any, but I wasn't really expecting to with the deep water and the enormous area of flooded forest.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Moka's main drag
We were running a bit low on boat fuel, so we weren't able to go to the second village I had hoped to visit. Because of our difficulties in the morning, we decided to ride the boat back to Cap Esterias and take a taxi home from there. So we headed out into Corisco Bay where there were lots of shorebirds- Skimmers, plovers, terns and gulls on sandbars. The bay was alot rougher than last week and we got soaked, but otherwise it was a nice ride.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Timothe was absolutely my best interview in Gabon so far and a very positive way to end the day! Many, many thanks to Angela who translated Timothe’s Spanish for me!
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
First some of the military guys took us out to a sand spit at one end of the island and showed us 3 Ridley nests and a false crawl (the turtle comes up on the beach but decides not to nest, this can be determined by looking at the tracks). They had taken eggs from one nest but had left the others to hatch. After that they took us to a corral where the hunter had a live adult green sea turtle. She was beautiful and Angela estimated her to be about 30 years old (and still not as large as they can get). I was completely overwhelmed by the fact that they were going to kill her and there was nothing I could do to stop it. They’ll sell her meat in Libreville for the equivalent of $50 US, which is a lot of money here, but seems so little for killing such a long-lived and slow-breeding species. They remarked that 5 other turtles had just gone in a boat to Libreville. I wanted to buy it, but Angela said these turtles are residents here, and it would just go back to the same reef and be re-caught by the same fisherman. It was so hopeless I had to walk away from it all. They allowed Angela to take measurements and a genetic sample, and as she did so she was telling the guys that the turtle was 30 years old and only 1 in 1000 hatchlings survive to adulthood. She later told me that the turtle fishermen are willing to give up hunting if there was another way to make money, but this is something that still needs to happen here.
While we were there we also asked the military guys about manatees. They said they never saw them there, but their rotations on the island changed every few weeks. They knew what manatees were and said they were very rare.
After that depressing episode, we left Mbanye and went a short way across the bay to a tiny speck of an island called Cocotier. There are about 3 trees and 500 terns on Cocotier; it is surrounded by rocky ledges and Angela had seen turtles and seagrass there in the past. We snorkeled and I found several patches of Halodule wrightii, a favorite manatee food. Collected samples and photographed them. This is also the only seagrass species recorded for West Africa. I also saw some nice tropical fish, a big sea hare and signs of turtle grazing on algae growing on rocks, but no sign of manatees.
Friday, November 02, 2007
View of the kitchen and dining/living room buildings at Langoue Bai camp. All the buildings were built on top of a large open rock clearing, so no forest was cleared for the camp.
The camp is really well done- 5 platforms with large tents, a dining/living room building, an office, kitchen and shower buildings all built on a huge area of flat rock. The first afternoon we took a short walk to a nearby clearing and saw a pretty rare bird, the Picathartes, as well as some grey-cheeked mangebeys. The Bai (which is a Pygmy word for "clearing") is another hour hike from camp so that most human activities are far removed from where the animals aggregate. For the next 2 days we spent all day at a raised platform at the edge of the Bai. The first day we saw at least 14 forest elephants, 50 red river hogs, forest buffalo, Sitatunga (a type of forest antelope), 4 gorillas and some cool birds including a Great Blue Turaco. The next day there were more elephants and sitatunga, plus a family group of 11 gorillas came in, including several tiny babies riding on their mother's backs. It's surreal to be there, you feel almost like you've been dropped into Jurassic Park. A researcher from Cornell's Elephant Listening Project, Peter, is in Langoue for 6 weeks recording elephant vocalizations on Autonomous Recording Units (ARUs) which are the same type of units my colleagues will use to record whale calls in Angola. It would also be neat to see if these units can determine manatee presence in Gabon's lagoons someday. Elephant chasing Sitatunga out of the water hole.
A civet (rare dog-like African mammal) that we saw on 2 different nights! (Photo by Andrea Dondona)
Carnivorous flower (like a Venus fly-trap). It was about the size of my foot, and Ruth (who has worked in this forest for 4 years) had never seen it before. The biodiversity here is asounding.
Happy campers- Lucy, Viginia and Andrea by a big tree in the forest.
After 3 fabulous days, we walked back out of the forest and got a ride back to Ivindo. Ruth mentioned that some of the guys who worked in the park might know if manatees were ever sighted in the Ivindo or Ogooue Rivers (which intersect near the town of Ivindo), so we went and talked to a few of them. I had previously been told (by others) that manatees were not found east of Lope on the Ogooue because of rocks and rapids in the river, but I had also heard one report that manatees have been sighted at Tsenge Tsenge, which is east of Lope on the Ivindo River. The Ivindo guys also said they knew of manatees at Tsenge Tsenge, and said an old fisherman at Ivindo had seen manatees there as well, but not for about 10 years. They had some other interesting info as well. Now that I've seen the rapids myself, I'm sure manatees could swim up them in periods of high water. Manatees in Florida swim equally strong currents going up power plant intake pipes!