One of the most rewarding aspects of our conservation and research efforts in the Goualougo Triangle is the opportunity to work side by side with some of the most talented and courageous animal trackers in all Central Africa. Crickette and I have often remarked that members of the Goualougo tracking team could have long ago earned Ph.D.’s based on their deep understanding of the forests and wildlife. Their tireless work ethic and genuine interest in assisting in our research endeavors are the foundation to the success of the GTAP.
Not only do the trackers take the lead in finding and interpreting animal signs and behavior, they also protect us from potentially dangerous encounters. Contacts with forest elephants and gorillas are a daily occurrence in the forests of the Goualougo. During such encounters, the guides take it upon themselves to ensure we maintain safe observation distances. When necessary, they safely direct us away from the animals’ aggressive charges.
The Goualougo tracking team consists of 35 semi-nomadic Mbendjele and BanGombe guides from the villages of Makoa and Bomassa. Their knowledge of natural world is based on a long history of identifying and gathering animals and plants from the forests to survive and raise their families.
Tracking apes with the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project allows these skills to be used and maintained with meaningful, long-term employment. Indeed, some members of our staff have worked with the GTAP for nearly 10 years, and their support for the project continues to grow.
It is now tradition that older trackers mentor younger, less-skilled Goualougo guides, teaching them the path names and providing local names of trees. And upon retirement, it’s common for trackers to proudly transfer their positions with their sons, ensuring the continuation of this important work and family traditions.