A sanctuary for forest elephants
This forest elephant is just one of over 500 that have so far been individually identified by researchers who have spent the past twenty years studying the wildlife of the Mbeli Bai clearing in the Nouabale-Ndkoi National Park in northern Congo. Having spent the night sleeping on the viewing platform at Mbeli last week, I woke up at sunrise to find him feeding on a thick mat of floating vegetation right in front of the platform.
Bais are natural forest clearings that are a magnet for large mammals, attracting species such as forest elephants and gorillas who come to the clearings to feed on their mineral rich soils and salts, or the vegetation.
One of the biggest challenges facing researchers and conservationists in the forests of the Congo Basin is that it’s actually very difficult to catch a glimpse of your study animals in the region’s thick lowland forests. This is why the network of bais that occur across northern Congo and into Gabon and the Central African Republic are so important to the conservation work that is conducted there.
Bais are natural forest clearings that are a magnet for large mammals, attracting species such as forest elephants and gorillas who come to the clearings to feed on their mineral rich soils and salts, or the vegetation. Mbeli Bai is one such clearing, located in the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in northern Congo. Mbeli is visited by up to two dozen groups of gorillas, who like to feed on the herbs and sedges that flourish in the thick mud of the swampy clearing.
Mbeli is also becoming increasingly popular with forest elephants, with the numbers that visit the clearing climbing year on year. Unfortunately, it is likely that this is a reaction to poaching elsewhere in the region, with elephants becoming concentrated in areas such as Mbeli, where they are well protected and not at risk of being killed.