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Nomadic Herders Take Their Toll on Central Africa’s Dwindling Wildlife

We finally decided to stay on the Chinko because I was thinking we were probably going to run out of water on the Vovodo. We also changed our walking strategy: up at 04h00, out of camp by 05h00, walk till about 10h30 or 11h00, then rest until 14h30 and take off for two more hours. It...

We finally decided to stay on the Chinko because I was thinking we were probably going to run out of water on the Vovodo. We also changed our walking strategy: up at 04h00, out of camp by 05h00, walk till about 10h30 or 11h00, then rest until 14h30 and take off for two more hours.

Day 6 zoomIt was great being on the trail at 05h00; the air was cool, just getting light, and more chance of spotting some wildlife.  Pretty quickly we saw more roan antelope dung and then a family of warthogs. We had Colobus monkeys making their grinding sound down on the river. We hit what must have been a nice salt lick at one time. There were roan tracks. Not too far after that we started picking up fresh burro and human tracks. We hit an abandoned camp with the ubiquitous cow anti-trypanosome medicine and a tea wrapper. These guys carry very basics. Up on a little hill we could hear cows on the opposite side of the river.

We crossed the river without getting our feet wet and just on the other side we ran across recent Derby eland tracks; good to know they are still around. Then we just kept running into more and more fresh signs of cattle, lots of trails coming to and from the river, lots of fresh dung.

We were cruising along through the bush and suddenly I thought I heard voices to the west. We stopped and could see two guys walking along at a rather fast clip with 4 burros with small loads and a single very skinny cow.  They didn’t see us and we waited untill they got real close to greet them: “Assalama ou aleekum,” Yaya said. “Aleekum salum”, I think they didn’t realize yet we were not fellow herders. Then they saw us and veered off.

The older of the two kept trucking and the younger got a safe running distance from us and responded to a couple of questions. They said they had been here for a month with their cows; they were off to the east. No explanation of where they had been that morning. He told us they were from Toulous in the Sudan. Then the kid, looking at me, said, “you cant let that white man walk, we will give you a burro he can ride on.” Not sure if it was a joke or not. That was about all we got; they were happy to be out of our sight. They didn’t appear to be armed.

I am sure they moved camp as soon as they got to their base. I am certainly the first white guy who has been in these parts for quite some time. It was a classic no man’s land situation: Hope the other guy doesn’t open fire, keep your distance, say the minimum, and get out of sight as soon as possible. It reminded me of Star Trek encounters in the Outer Galaxy.

We continued on to the river to take our break; we had already covered around 12km in a straight line. We discussed food. I did inventory yesterday and the ration I set was way too low. So I upped it one third. That is three cups of either rice or manioc per day. That is a real bare minimum. With that we only have about 17 or 18 more days of food. They seemed to be happy with the one-third increase. We  have been supplementing with fish which are abundant in every pool. I have been eating very little so far.

20170316_061106 Honey poachers from Sudan-001

Lots of trees cut for honey


20170316_070429 Underused saline-001

Ancient saline that would have had frequent vistitation by wildlife


20170316_073824 Waterbuck track-001

Fresh waterbuck tracks


20170316_074248_001 Campsite on Chinko-001

20170316_074638 Water levels still going down on Chinko every day-001

Water is dropping fast in the river

20170316_081038 Fresh human and burro tracks-001 20170316_084047 Rocky laterite-001 20170316_091840 More drugs and tea-001

Tea and cow medicine, and only that, in every camp

During the break, Herve went exploring and he said he almost got eaten by a catfish. He said this giant reared his head out of the water and thought he was going to get eaten by a croc, but it was a huge catfish.  I went to the spot and there were lots of big catfish gulping air from time to time. Herve hooked one, but it just ran and broke the 4 5kg line. Last time we try that. I would guesstimate the fish at 60kg [130 pounds] or so.

20170316_104740 Nice pool full of catfish-001

We pushed on at 15h00. Still lots of cattle movement along the river. We had Colobus this evening. We passed by several small plains today. The Buffon’s kob has become just about as rare as elephant, i.e. on the brink of extinction. Also n0 hope of seeing a hartebeest. Between the poachers and the herders the wildlife here just has no chance.

20170316_154157 Cattle trails (mural)-001

There isn’t 10 minutes that go by that we don’t see burro dung.  These guys are scouring this landscape every day for any mammal. The eland and the roan are just the hardest to eliminate. The waterbuck  are not preferred, so they hang on longer. I don’t expect to hear lions roaring at night. Even 10 years ago they would have been heard. Again, the Chinko Project is the Last Stand, the last lions and the last elephants, perhaps even the last kob and hartebeest.

Africa explorer-conservationist J. Michael Fay is in the Central African Republic, completing an expedition he started in 2014, retracing as best he can the footsteps of the 19th Century American Game Hunter-Explorer William Stamps Cherry. Fay, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and recipient of numerous National Geographic Society grants, has also worked for decades for the Wildlife Conservation Society. His transects through some of Africa’s most remote and inaccessible wildernesses (among them the National Geographic-sponsored Megatransect and Meglaflyover) rank among the most significant in the history of exploration of the continent. You can read all his dispatches at Expedition Through the Heart of Africa.

Day 6 aerial

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Meet the Author

J. Michael Fay
Mike Fay has spent his life as a naturalist—from the Sierra Nevadas and the Maine woods as a boy, to Alaska and Central America in college, to North Africa and the depths of the central African forest and savannas for the last 25 years. He has worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society of the Bronx since 1991. In 1996, Fay flew over the forests of Congo and Gabon and realized there was a vast, intact forest corridor spanning the two countries from the Oubangui to the Atlantic Ocean. In 1997, he walked the entire corridor, over 2,000 miles, surveying trees, wildlife, and human impacts on 12 uninhabited forest blocks. Called Megatransect, this work led to a historic initiative by the Gabonese government to create a system of 13 national parks, making up some 11,000 square miles (28,500 square kilometers). In 2004, he completed the Megaflyover, an eight-month aerial survey of the entire African continent. He logged 800 hours and took 116,000 vertical images of human impact and associated ecosystems, many of which are now visible on Google Earth. In 2008 Fay completed the Redwood Transect, a new project to learn more about the redwood forest. He walked the entire range of the redwood tree, over 700 miles. Since then he has participated in the 2011 BioBlitz at Saguaro National Park, and is a regular team member of fellow NG Explorer Enric Sala's Pristine Seas Expeditions, recording the life and land above the waves.