Unfortunately the first 3 days at Olako were an exercise in frustration. The lodge manager could not seem to organize a boat to take me out on the lagoon and just kept putting me off. The boat drivers were unwilling to talk to me until I finally called the owner, who I had originally made my arrangements with. The staff at this lodge is only used to dealing with tourists, not researchers, so I don’t think they knew what to do with me, but it still shouldn’t have been as difficult as it was. Fortunately the owner was able to remedy the situation immediately by assigning a driver to me. In the meantime I had plenty of time to catch up on other writing, but that’s not what I came here to do.
Finally on Tuesday afternoon we got out on the lagoon. We headed to the southwest corner where there were no villages. As we cruised around the coves I was surprised to find that even at the furthest reaches we would see logging roads cutting through the forest to the lagoon. The habitat was good for manatees but we didn’t see any.
For the next week I surveyed different parts of the lagoon and it was evident there is a larger human population, because there are only small patches of forest or savannah between each group of houses or village. We did go up several beautiful rivers that had no human inhabitants or signs of fishing, and there we saw more wildlife, including the relatively rare African Finfoot (the male pictured below as well as a female and chicks) and a turtle. I was happily surprised that these animals didn’t flee at the site of our boat as they do almost everywhere in Gabon, and I was told later by a local guide that almost no one goes up these rivers so the animals are more tame. He also said both manatees and hippos are reported in these places. Unfortunately I didn’t see any the day I was there.
West African Black turtle, Pelusios niger, resting on a log
On a survey up the Rembo N’komi I visited the small town of Ndougou, which really only exists as a place where roads lead into the interior so barges unload trucks and equipment for logging and oil companies, and smaller boats are loaded with bananas from nearby plantations headed to market in Gabon’s bigger cities. In just the 2 hours I was there, five big barges came to unload. All are coming from Pt. Gentil and traversing the length of Fernan Vaz Lagoon to the river, then going upriver to Ndougou. The river is deep, I recorded 11m and 10.6m in several places, but with the amount of boat traffic I would imagine manatees stay away from the village. The smaller boats have 6 engines on the back, which as I know all too well from Florida, could be very lethal to a manatee, but there are no reports of manatees being hit by boats and I suspect they avoid the area because of the noise. The good news is the barges and most other boats all follow the same course through the lagoon. The river had several smaller quiet branches with no villages and the mouth at the lagoon was a broad shallow area with miles of papyrus plants, so some habitat was good.
mouth of the lagoon to the sea
At the end of my two weeks we had several days of non-stop torrential rain, making visibility very poor. Rainy season is kicking into high gear again after the annual shorter, drier period here known as the Petite Seche (little dry season). So unfortunately I will leave here without seeing a manatee, but from all my interviews I am sure they are here, although I suspect in lesser numbers than the N’gowe and N’dogo Lagoons south of here.