Odzala National Park
by Gaël R. Vande weghe
Odzala National Park is large, and most of the touristic infrastructure and activities are in the Southern end of the park, in the forest savanna mosaic of Mboko and Lango. The habitats there, aren’t representative of the entirety of the park and there is a lot more to discover in the north. Along the Mambili River, there are large forest bais, that are well visited by elephants and gorillas. These bais weren’t easely accessible at the time of our visit in Odzala, but hopefully that has changed or will change in the future. On the north-western limit of the park, there are old forests, and on the western border specifically, there is a large cliff with the promises of unique biodiversity. The oldest forests are always the special ones, with very old, large trees, rare insects, rare birds, unique plants. We weren’t going to visit these at the time, but I hoped that one day it may be possible.
For our last visit of the park, we decided to explore different forests for a few days. We traveled east on the Lekoli on a small boat, until it reached the Mambili and then going north, as far as we could, close to other Bais. Essentially, we were trying experience the habitat gradients along the rivers, from the wetlands of Lango – comprised of Phoenix palms, Uapaca and Dracaena trees – to the taller riparian and swamp forests in the north.
I had been on many rivers in Central Africa. In many places, rivers are the only way to reach certain areas. While they may look superficially similar, each river has its own unique characteristics. Some have black waters, some are narrow with tall trees, some are massive, wide, with smaller trees or papyrus edges. Sometimes, the terrain is hilly, and in other times, we have had to avoid waterfalls.
The Lekoli river, close to Mboko, was quite narrow, with relatively short vegetation and trees were only about 20 meters high on average. The river was also part of a larger wetland systems, with palms trees, swamp forests and inundated marshes. It was an excellent place to catch a glimpse of rare animals. We managed to see several Brazza Monkeys, always in pairs and particularly shy on the branches above the river. The little Talapoin, sometimes in very large group completely eluded us. In some meanders, a lone elephant was often present and small herds of buffaloes often seen when the vegetation was very low.
Forest Buffalo along the Lekoli River.
Wetland forest close to Mboko.
A stand of Phoenix reclinata close along the Lekoli.
Riparian vegetation along the Lekoli before reaching the Lango wetlands.
De Brazza’s Monkey (Cercopithecus neglectus), shy, along the Lekoli.
Inundated wetland forest.
As the Lekoli River joined the Mambili River, the forest became taller for a significant part of the journey. Navigating through forested rivers can be quite monotonous, as it feels like going up along endless curtains of vegetation. It required skill, as our pilot was particularly attentive to small hints of submerged large branches that could damage the engine’s propeller. We still had a surprise or two.
For the attentive eyes, the forest all along was full of life, and every single branch, whether broken and half submerged in the water, or high up in the trees could have something on it. The usual fauna was present, with White-throated Blue Swallows, forest swifts, Giant Kingfishers, an occasional Banded Water Cobra, Monitor Lizards, and plenty of Hornbills, Turacos and other birds. We had the chance to surprise a large group of Agile Mangabeys, particularly curious about us, a bunch of weird-looking apes (humans) on a boat – a weird-looking floating device – on a river, were there is usually nobody. Slender-snouted Crocodiles, although usually numerous, were scarce during our ride, but this was largely due to high water levels.
White-throated Blue Swallow, Hirundo nigrita, on dead wood on the Lekoli.
Ornate Monitor Lizard (Varanus ornatus) on the Mambili River.
A Central African Slender-snouted Crocodile (Mecistops leptorhynchus). Mambili River.
Banded Water Cobra, Naja annulata, on a branch above the Mambili.
A few meters before our campsite, on a tributary of the Mambili.
The Mambili River in the north.
A stand of Uapaca heudelotii, along the Mambili.
An Agile Mangabey (Cercocebus agilis) peering at us from the riverine vegetation.
Cymothoe hypatha, male, feeding on fallen fruit.
Euphaedra permixtum, male, on the path close to our campsite.
A bright male Cymothoe coccinata close to our campsite.
High up on the Mambili, close to Romani Bai, the river became quite wide, with a wetland system similar to that around Mboko and Lango. The vegetation became lower, Uapaca heudelotii trees and their aerial roots, became dominant. This was as far as we would go that time and we camped in small base. Allready there was some significant differences in the surrounding forests, and I saw many butterflies that I hadn’t seen south. Could have been seasonal differences, local differences, different forests, I don’t know and wouldn’t find out then. There was plenty of Elephant trails, Pig trails, Gorillas and even Bongos. Odzala is blessed with wildlife but it was the end of our trip and once again after lengthy visits in an african forest, I felt like we had only scratched the surface.
End of part 3.
The end of day along the Lekoli, on our way back.