Living among Elephants

Miroslav Bobek et al., 2 July 2009
Interview with Adrea Turkalo. Part I

Andrea Turkalo, author: Khalil BaalbakiAndrea Turkalo has lived in a small forest camp in the southwest of the Central African Republic. Every morning she walks to a shelter hidden at the edge of a unique “forest elephant clearing”. Supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the US government, she conducts research into the life of forest elephants and tries to contribute to their protection.

Who discovered this “elephant clearing” and when?
This clearing is called Dzanga and and it has always been known for the wildlife. I have a German friend who first came here in the 1960s and he filmed here. Now he is in his 70s but he comes back periodically to film. He came here when there was no road to Bayanga, he walked all the way with his equipment. He walked all through this area and filmed. Before he came in the 1960s, the areas was, of course, known to the Bayaka, Pygmies. When you talk to them about this area, even the older ones, they remember as very small children walking to this area and hunting. Now, it is a national park, so hunting is not allowed but they have always known this area. There are also other clearings in this area but none of them are alike Dzanga where you can see 40-100 elephants a day.

Elephant family (unknown) and forest buffalo, author: Autor: Miroslav Bobek

Why do so many of them come to the clearing?
They come for minerals. They dig big holes in the dry season and now you see them pumping through water and that’s to get down below to the minerals. These minerals are probably helping them digest the food they are eating. A lot of the food they get in the forest is very poor quality. The best quality food they get is fruit but it is very seasonal, that only found during a certain period of the year. So when they cannot get fruit, they are eating leaves and bark and whatever they can get, and it probably has a lot of poisons in it. So they come here to eat the soil and it is sort of medication because it lessens the toxicity of the food that they are eating.

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Ecoguards from Djoum: Risking their Lives

Ecoguards. Jean on the right. Author: Miroslav Bobek

Miroslav Bobek et al., 17 June 2009

The Dja biosphere reserve in the south-eastern Cameroon is guarded by four units of rangers called “ecoguards”. This sixty-strong force is supposed to protect more than half a million hectares of tropical rainforest. With worn-out shoes and no tents or communication technology they confront hordes of armed poachers.

Djoum is more than 250 km from Yaoundé. While the first three-fifths of the distance is a nice drive along a good tarmac road, the rest is a dirt road navigable only for 4×4 trucks, and sometimes not even for them in the rain season. Djoum is the seat of the subprefect, it has a health facility, primary schools and a lyceum, a large market, and most of the area is covered by mobile phone signal. Most importantly for us, though, one of four units of the ecoguards who protect the Dja biosphere reserve is stationed there.

Djoum city centre. On today's menu: duikers. Come tomorrow for porcupine. Author: Khalil Baalbaki

“Everyone eats bushmeat,” ecoguard Tomi told us when we first met. “And almost everyone hunts. We cannot be overly strict with people but rather try to convince them to kill fewer animals and avoid hunting the most strictly protected species.”

Whereas three years ago, we had problems finding and photographing bushmeat in Yaoundé, it was completely different in Djoum this time. We were offered bushmeat for lunch even in the auberge we were staying in.

“Do you have some other kind of meat?” we asked.
“No,” was the answer.
“Can’t you get us chicken or something?”
“Sure, but… chicken is not meat, is it?”

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Photos from the patrol are available in the article On duty with ecoguards.

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Gorilla Fairy Tales ON AIR in Africa

Miroslav Bobek, 4 June 2009

Logo of CRTV - Autor:Khalil Baalbaki “She’s playing the young quite well! And the peacock, too…” producer Honza Jiran noted when choosing an actor for the French rendition of the gorilla fairy tales among 10 short-listed native speakers with more or less extensive acting experience. He eventually selected the one who interpreted the young and the peacock so nicely – Mélanie Ruppe.

After the success of the gorilla story book among schoolchildren in Cameroon (see Related Links in the category Book of gorilla fairy-tales) we decided to record a French rendition of the same as another way of helping children in Africa realise that gorillas deserve protection and that they, too, can help. (We should note that many people in Central Africa continue to perceive wild animals, including gorillas, as nothing more but a source of meat… I remember how surprise children in a forest village were to find out when browsing our book that a gorilla can have a name just like a human.)

Jan Jiran producing gorilla fairy talesWe prepare a publication of the book of Gorilla Stories for Congo. Without public subvention we can not develope this idea further. We would be glad if you contribute to achieve these efforts.

  • The Revealed charitable account finances protection of western lowland gorillas and educational activities in al countries where this subspecies of gorilla lives in the wild. To support the cause, you can send your donation to 555 555 552/0800, IBAN: CZ35 0800 0000 0005 5555 5552 or donate through wildlifedirect.

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When I am approaching gorillas, I have a rare feeling

Daniela Hedwig; in the background: Makumba and Malui with Tembo on her back. Photo Khalil Baalbaki
M. Bobek, J. Jirátová, P. Hanzelková, 21 May 2009

Three years we observed gorillas in Prague Zoo. We wanted to present their stories so that people identify with them and understand how important is to help conservation of gorillas in wild. Like this we get to Africa. Within the project The Revealed we try to bring informations about african wildlife and its conservation but also raise funds for that purposes (as I wrote below, we published the Gorilla stories book, we supported educational project in villages north of Dja and now we would like to equip the ecoquards in Djoum).

During our trip to Africa we made a lot of  interviews with people who work in field and here is one of them… An interview with primatologist Daniela Hedwig.

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Panorama of Dzanga Bai

The Revealed, 11 May 2009

When we offered you the photogallery of forest elephants two weeks ago, we did not expect how they attract you. After our arrival from Africa, we launch forth the elephants once again – this time in global panoramatic view in the clearing.

By the way, do you know how many of elephants are there? 🙂 Try to count them! First three of you, who count them correctly and send us the answer on email [email protected] until 18 May, get a little present.

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You can look around the clearing by holding left mouse button and moving left and right. For zooming use cursor keys up and down.

Playful Adjibolo

Adjibolo, photo by Miroslav Bobek

Jana Jirátová, 9 May 2009

Thanks to our merchandise sale we have supported a primate sanctuary Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon. During our last expedition into Cameroon and Central African Republic  we get to know Adjibolo – the second youngest gorilla in the LWC. 

We have presented her story in Live Webcasts from LWC and a few days ago on our websites together with the rest of the troop that occupies the small enclosure. Now you have a chance to see here closely. We have produced a short video for you from materials that we have brought back from Africa. It clearly shows that Adjibolo is lively and playful despite her tragic fate. 

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On Duty with Ecoguards (Illegal Bushmeat Thrives in Cameroon)

Ecoguards load the game on our truck. They have an off-road vehicle but it is in Yaoundé at the moment. They otherwise use motorcycles. They also have a lack of tents and have to sleep under plastic sheets as a shelter during their ten-day duties in the bush.

Miroslav Bobek, 30 April 2009

 “Yesterday, a road patrol seized gorilla hands and pieces of gorilla meat,” we were told by ecoguard Tomi when we stopped by the ECOFAC office in Djoum. We are back in Cameroon, south of the Dja biosphere reserve. We are in an area that generously supplies Yaoundé and other cities with bushmeat. Twelve ECOFAC officers stationed in Djoum are supposed to throttle or curb the supply. As our photo report suggests, it is a futile effort…

(You can expect more on the topic plus very sincere  interviews with ecoguards after we return from Africa.)


It is dark outside and we are hiding with ecoguards in a hut some fifteen kilometres to the east of Djoum. Tomi is waiting – and we are waiting with him.

Hunting of some species (apes, elephants, crocodiles etc.) is strictly prohibited, while others can be hunted for private needs. Violations of the law are punishable with hefty fines and prison sentences. The boy in the checked shirt has been caught red-handed before but being juvenile, he escaped unpunished.

Ecoguards are now state officers. That grants them a salary and pension but not sufficient equipment. They wear worn-out shoes and uniforms (with the exception of Tomi who bought a new uniform with his own money).

The owner of the bushmeat has been caught three times before. And he is again carrying meat either for sale or for a client. Clients are usually well-off people from the city who order bushmeat from village hunters. They give the hunter ten shells and ask for pieces of game. The hunter can keep the remaining five shells as a reward… 

The owner of the bushmeat has been caught three times before. And he is again carrying meat either for sale or for a client. Clients are usually well-off people from the city who order bushmeat from village hunters. They give the hunter ten shells and ask for pieces of game. The hunter can keep the remaining five shells as a reward...

The consignment includes even the most strictly protected species. Bushmeat is not just a subject of trade but most often part of the daily diet. When we asked pre-school children in a Baka Pygmy village whether they had ever eaten gorilla meat, four fifths of them raised their hands.

A poacher hunted the game early in the morning but in the hot tropical climate, it is already attracting flies. Ecoguards will sell it later in the afternoon in a public auction. The proceeds will go to the state coffers.

Bushmeat is cheap in Djoum but the price grows on its way to Yaoundé or another large city. Countering the illegal trade are ecoguards as well as patrols of the Ministere des Forets et de la Faune and gendarmerie.

“I didn’t know this was forbidden,” said the driver. He probably lied; yet there is a certain difference between him and the poacher whom the ecoguards caught two hours ago.  They seized the game from both of them, checked their papers, and handed them subpoenas.

You can see more photos from our reportage on The Revealed website.  

Help us to fight against busmeat trade! Help us to educate local people! Your donation supports our conservational efforts…

Watching Forest Elephants with Andrea Turkalo

Dzanga Baï, Central African Republic

Miroslav Bobek, 24 April 2009

Andrea Turkalo has been living in a small camp at the Dzanga Baï clearing in the midst of a tropical rainforest in the south-west of the Central African Republic. It is a thirty-minute walk from her camp to the clearing.  “I have walked 33 thousand kilometres along this path,” says Andrea who left the comfort of the East Coast of the USA for her great passion – forest elephants.

Dzanga Baï, Central African Republic

The Dzanga Baï clearing is absolutely unique. Some say it is the only place in the world where you are always sure to see Forest Elephants. In any case, it is indisputably the absolutely best place in the world to watch them. Elephants, Forest Buffaloes, and Bongo antelopes come to the clearing regularly to drink from springs that contain salt and other minerals.

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Among Gorillas!

Found them! Here is silver-backed male Makumba

Miroslav Bobek, 21 April 2009

“You stay here. Don’t move,” Daniela whispered to loud gorilla yelling. “It’s OK, you just don’t move,” she repeated and I thought that perhaps Khalil tried to turn right with his camera despite her first warning, to focus on the area in front of me. It was funny that I was thinking about this. I kept ducking down and wondered if I could continue whispering my commentary to the microport.

I had tried to imagine myself in such a situation before and always came to the conclusion that I would probably run in panic – which would be the most stupid thing to do. Just a few second ago, a muscular silver-backed male Western Lowland Gorilla stopped some five or ten metres in front of me in a menacing posture. Makumba.

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Unique footage of Gorillas from Dzanga Sangha

Gorillas in Dzanga Sangha are habituated - used to humans…

Jana Jirátová, 17 April 2009

“Have you got any news about them?” my colleagues at the radio have been asking me every day. The expedition was supposed to have reached the Dzanga Sangha reservation in the Central African Republic but we haven’t heard from them for a couple of days. The long waiting is gone – not only have we learned that all members of the team all right but also they managed to send us a batch of unique images and video footage.

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