In Gamba we have a Smithsonian research group that studies a variety of subject ranging from developing strategies to ease human-animal conflicts and discovering new species of animals to analyzing the impact of industrial practices on local ecosystems. I met one of the visiting researchers, Matt, who specializes in research on crocodiles in Central Africa, and asked him if I might be able to join him on one of his trips to search for new nests. Lucky for me, he agreed and one morning in October I set off in a boat with a small group of researchers and volunteers to go check on a nile crocodile nest he had recently found. Our journey took us into the Ndogo lagoon towards the Moukalaba river. After about 45 minutes we anchored the boat on a patch of land nearby the nest. We hiked up the muddy bank and across a small savannah, keeping a careful eye out for mommy crocodile. Unfortunately there was no sign that the crocodile had been anywhere around the nest for at least the last few days, most likely abandoning her nest after realizing humans had been poking around it. The crocodile population here is pretty small, mostly due to overhunting for many years. So we sadly made our way back to boat.
On the way back to Gamba we decided to take a little detour into an offshoot of the Moukalaba river to see what we could see. It was an absolutely beautiful place, lined with fluffy papyrus plants and raffia palms. I gleefully snapped away, hoping that some of my photos may capture the magic of the area.
And then our crocodile expert spotted them! Two slender snouted crocodiles sunning themselves on a fallen tree in the river! Crocodiles around here tend to be very shy and run away at the first sign of people, but these two seemed very relaxed. They just hung out on their tree as we made several passes by them in the boat.
We continued down the river, finally returning back into the lagoon and heading back toward Gamba. On the way back Matt and Tobi, one of the head researched at the Smithsonian that I’ve been helping out run the Nature Club at Yenzi, asked if I would like to join them after lunch to look for crocodile nests in one of the coastal lagoons. I happily agreed.
After lunch they picked me up and we headed towards Colas beach. This would be a little different trek than our morning excursion. Instead of the large boat with 100hp motor we would be using their small aluminum dingy with a 12hp motor to explore areas of the shallow lagoon. Matt already had some ideas where to look so we crossed the main body of the lagoon and headed towards a narrower section that apparently goes on for several miles through thickly vegetated areas. Soon enough we found a sandy bank that could be a potential nesting area so we stopped the boat, all got and started walking around (in the middle of no where in potentially crocodile/hippo/elephant/snake infested territory) looking for loose sandy areas that could indicate a nest and started poking long sticks in the sand. Apparently if there’s a nest the stick will easily go several feet into the ground, otherwise it just goes a few inches in. No nest, so we started wanderingfurther around in the bushes. After a few minutes of searching we headed back into the boat to go further up the lagoon. Soon the water became shallower and more plant filled and the motor became useless. That’s when Tobi and I grabbed the paddles and used man power to continue on. We would paddle on a for bit before Matt would spot another potential nesting spot and we would all jump out and begin our search again, but again with no luck. Back in boat we would go, sometimes we could use the motor for a bit before we had to go back to paddling. It was turning into quite an adventure… and then it got real… Anybody who know me well, knows that while I’m crazy about all kinds animals, I’m not a fan of spiders, in particular them crawling on me. So as we continue down the lagoon the waterway is getting narrower and the bushes and trees are overhanging further into the water. And all I can see as tree branches and bushes are headed straight for my face, in slow motion (paddling isn’t getting us anywhere very fast) are spiders crawling all over them. Of course I’m in a boat with two seasoned field biologists who aren’t at all bothered by these harmless little spiders, so I’m trying to keep my cool, casually as possible dodging branch full of spiders after branch. Eventually I was busted when they advised me to put my camera strap around my neck in case we went overboard, I had left it sitting on the bench in front of me and it was now crawling with spiders that I clumsily tried to remove with the end of my paddle before hanging it around my neck. So between the paddling through the thick brush laden water and doing my best to avoid the hundred of spiders, all in the middle of the humid mid-day heat, it was turning into quite an adventurous afternoon. We continued further up the lagoon for a another hour or so continuing our search unfulfilled before giving up and heading back to the car. It was quite an amazing day!