Magazine article New Internationalist

Tears in the Forest

Magazine article New Internationalist

Tears in the Forest

Article excerpt

The instructions are simple: walk in single file, with the armed guards at the rear, and don't speak. Do exactly as told. The greatest risks here are of charging elephants or gorillas.

When I ask about snakes, the ranger smiles. 'Yes Madam, we have many snakes in the rainforest, but try not to worry.'

I'm not worried; I have spent years wishing for the chance to visit this forest.

Yesterday, I left my home in Bangui and flew in a small plane to a place called Bayanga, in the extreme southwest of the Central African Republic. We landed in radiant sunshine at the edge of the Dzangha-Sangha National Park, the only place in CAR where you can still find forest elephants and gorillas in their natural habitat, deep in the rainforest. Two new forest rangers were being flown down to join the team, and I was lucky to be invited to visit the Park with them for a weekend.

At lunchtime today we entered the national park in a four-wheel drive, and bashed our way along a rough mud track for an hour or so until we reached the local ranger centre. Then we got our instructions, and set off into the rainforest in single file, like a colony of ants.

Dzangha-Sangha Park is one of the most isolated corners of CAR, and here the Congo Basin Rainforest that covers almost 10 per cent of CAR is at its most dense, and pristine. We waded through a clear river, and then took a thin mud track up into the forest. The shade was cool, and the track ribboned through the trees. We were following a local Aaka man, one of the Central African pygmy forest people, who hacked at foliage with his machete so we wouldn't be scratched or bruised.

Suddenly a fight erupts in the branches above, stopping us in our tracks. The rangers order us to move on, quickly. 'These monkeys can be very aggressive,' one tells me, 'and they weigh more than 20 kilos each.' It sounds like a bar brawl up there as we scuttle off along the track.

The local ranger walking just ahead of me begins to explain softly about different trees; their medicinal qualities and the fruits they produce. The forest all around us hums with birds, and other small creatures, as we stagger through thick mud and foliage.

I've lost all track of time, and have no idea how long we've been walking when we arrive at a solid wooden platform rising some 10 metres above the earth. …

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