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Central African Republic: Dzanga Bai

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Dzanga Bai | Central African Republic | Africa

[Visited: May 2015]

Initially, I thought I could combine a visit to Dzanga Bai with another activity in the area, but my host suggested to stay the entire day at the site. It makes me all the more curious about the place when we walk from the trailhead through the forest, crossing a stream, and arrive at the observation platform within half an hour. I spot one elephant right away, and after we tiptoe up, the entire opening in the rainforest opens up before our eyes. I quietly put my camera and lenses on a wooden board, stand at the railing, and watch. Just watch. The bai, the opening in the forest below us, has a stream of water running through it. There are holes in the ground, and they must have some mysterious sweetness in their muddy waters, because the elephants love them. Actually, one of the reasons why bais like Dzanga attract animals, is that the water provides minerals that are otherwise difficult for them to access. This is why I see many elephants enthusiastically digging into the water: they are good miners, and with their trunks and tusks able to dig into the water and the mud in search of the minerals they need. The holes they leave behind are also thankfully used by other animals to get their feed.

Picture of Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic): Two young elephants digging deep into one of the pools of Dzanga Bai

Before I start taking pictures, I just scan the area and take in the scenery. The thought that we have plenty of time gives a very relaxed feeling. My guide and the BaAka tracker sit behind me, without a sound, and it feels like I am here alone. After a while, I take one of the seats, and I quickly start to like this place a lot. It is actually perfect for elephant (and other wildlife) spotting. Not in a 4WD, a canoe, or walking, but just sitting: not going in search of the action, but let the action come to you. I have to get used to this passiveness, but that does not take long. The advantages are there: I don't have to carry any equipment around, can take notes while watching, can have a drink or something to eat, can put my heavy lens on the wooden board which is just as good as a tripod. I feel like sitting in a huge theatre, with the actors gliding onto the stage, and disappearing in the wings again when they have played their part of the play, before new actors emerge on stage. There are many mothers with young elephants, and only a few bulls: at this time of year, most of them are elsewhere. There are some tiny elephants, which look so cute with their trunk and flapping ears next to their mother. Some bigger young elephants go into the pools themselves. Apart from digging into the holes, they also blow bubbles with their trunks, probably to force the earth to get loose so they can drink it. Of course, the elephants also use the water to spray it over themselves with their mighty trunks. The baths they take in the pools mean that they have different colours: some elephants are grey, some brown, some white. Their behaviour is complex, and Dzanga Bai is the perfect place to study it. One incident strikes me as odd: an elephant attacking a younger elephant, throwing it on the ground with its legs in the air, while trumpeting loudly. Fascinating animals.

Picture of Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic): Bongoes at the water of Dzanga Bai

But Dzanga Bai is not only about elephants, even though they are the most loved and prominent animals of the clearing. There is a group of forest buffaloes, too. They are mostly inactive, lying in the mud, or slowly walking around. At the end of the day, one of the males mates with a female: the buffaloes have a different mating season than the elephants. The other star actors in this giant play of nature are the bongoes, and they appear only after a few hours. Not only are they the largest forest antilopes, they are also the best looking. They have a reddish brown colour, and both males and females have white stripes on their sides, and spiraled horns. Once they arrive, they stay for hours, sometimes standing together near one of the pools, sometimes roaming off. There are birds of prey flying over the bai, and smaller birds, too. When, at the end of the afternoon, another group of visitors comes by, the atmosphere changes. There is a little more noise on our platform, people walking around, chatting to each other, laughing - I do not have the feeling of privacy I had before. When we finally make our way back to our cars, we encounter an elephant in the stream we have to cross. It is apparently not happy: it makes a mock charge on us. Our guides and trackers get a little nervous: no one carries a weapon, and they try to chase the mastodont away by shouting and making sounds. We are kept at a distance, and are soon in safety, and on our way back to Bayanga.

Picture of Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic): Elephants in the central part of Dzanga Bai
Picture of Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic): Elephant having a shower
Picture of Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic): Adult elephant followed by youngsters at Dzanga Bai
Picture of Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic): Elephant digging into one of the many pools of Dzanga Bai
Picture of Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic): Herd of forest buffaloes with elephant
Picture of Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic): Elephant in a pool at Dzanga Bai
Picture of Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic): Young elephant trying to drink at his mother while she drinks water
Picture of Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic): Elephants running through the plain of Dzanga Bai
Picture of Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic): Elephant marching through the water of Dzanga Bai
Picture of Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic): Young elephant thrown on the ground by older elephant
Picture of Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic): Elephants in the muddy grass of Dzanga Bai
Picture of Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic): Elephant leading her young offspring to the water
Picture of Dzanga Bai (Central African Republic): Elephants in the clearing in the forest called Dzanga Bai

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