We arrived by plane in Ouesso, a town on the Sangha River near the northern border of the Republic of Congo. Crossing the river by ferry in a Range Rover loaded with field supplies, our bags strapped to the roof, we headed north to Bomassa on a bumpy one-lane dirt road.
The zoo’s Maureen Leahy, Steve Ross and Lisa Faust arrive at Congo’s Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park. Their ultimate destination—the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project field site—lies deep within the park’s dense rain forest.
It’s the dry season here, and a fine layer of rusty orange dust overlays the new forest growth along the road. The brilliant mosaic of contrasting oranges and greens blended and blurred as the speedometer reached 100 kilometers per hour. We were the only ones on the road except for a couple of massive logging trucks that barreled past us and a few resident Bayaka pygmy people walking along the roadside. One was hauling a heavy load of harvested manioc, a local crop grown for its leafy greens and starchy root tubers.
“Ebobo! Ebobo!” shouted Dave Morgan, our host in Congo and research fellow with Lincoln Park Zoo’s Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes. Ebobo is the word for gorilla in the local Lingala language.
I looked ahead to where he pointed, as did my fellow travelers, Fisher Center Director Steve Ross and Lisa Faust, the zoo’s Vice President of Conservation and Science. In the distance, I spotted the back end of a gorilla fleeing into the forest after crossing the road.
As we drove past, I could actually smell the musky scent of gorillas with which I’m so familiar from working around Kwan’s troop at Regenstein Center for African Apes. Ironically, this smell was the only familiar sense I experienced on the drive to Bomassa. The novel sights and sounds of the surrounding rainforest were otherwise infinite.
The drive to Bomassa took nearly four hours, but by late afternoon we arrived at the headquarters and base camp for Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park. Not long after unloading our gear, some other visitors arrived at camp too: a group of 8–10 black-and-white colobus monkeys and a few De Brazza’s guenons!
It was amazing to see two other species that also reside at Lincoln Park Zoo. They were high above in the canopy of an Antiaris africana tree, but with binoculars I could actually see their faces occasionally looking down at me. The colobus looked very similar to those at the Helen Brach Primate House but had much shorter lengths of white hair draping from their tail tips. The De Brazza’s guenons looked like juveniles or perhaps females—much smaller in body size than our two adult males at the zoo.
Our sightings weren’t limited to primates. An hour or so later we observed five hornbills foraging from the same tree—a reminder of the incredible diversity of species here.
Tomorrow we’ll begin our trek deeper into the forest en route to the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project field site.
Maureen is Curator of Primates at Lincoln Park Zoo where she oversees the care of 12 primate species at the Helen Brach Primate House and Regenstein Center for African Apes.