The Heart of the Jungle


The latest news to make international headlines from the Central African Republic CAR is the participation by US Special Forces, in the hunt to catch Joseph Koni the leader of the Lords resistance army, rumoured to be pillaging raping and killing in the country. There is more to the CAR then the search for an elusive and brutal warlord and the almost permanent political unrest.

For example the national park Dzanga –Shanga, located in the south west of the country it covers an area of 4500 Square Km. It was founded in 1998 as part of the tri-national Sangha reserve. An effort by the Central African Republic, Congo Brazzaville, Cameroon and the world wild life fund WWF. The tropical rainforests of the Congo basin that are among the most bio diverse places on earth are second only to the Amazon in terms of size and provide an unpayable service as carbon monoxide traps. Yet these areas have been drastically reduced over the years trough uncontrolled logging. Some say that up to three quarters of the forests have disappeared.

In this context the Dzangha-Shanga can be described as an oasis in the desert. It provides a relative safe heaven to countless species, more then 200 mammals (including forest elephants and low land gorillas) and twice as many birds from the destructive forces not only of logging companies but also of organized gangs of poachers as well as the general population pressure. Angelique Todd that has spent 12 years studying them has habituated the Gorillas to the human presence; the elephants can be watched from a platform made by another scientist Andrea Turkalo at Dzanga Bay, a saline clearing where they come to extract the minerals they need for digestion.

The WWF offices are in Bayanga a small town that boomed with the arrival of a logging company and later declined with the company’s bankruptcy. Today apart from the people employed by the WWF it is a remote jungle outpost on the banks of the Sangha (the fourth biggest tributary to the Congo river) waiting for something to happen.

The main tool of preservation at Dzanga-Shanga are the Eco guards about forty armed men that are deployed for week long patrols in search of poachers and their traps. Eco guard patrolling that is financed by the WWF and an array of Governments and NGO’s would be impossible without the help of the BaAka pygmies that work as trackers. Native of the region the BaAkas have an understanding of the forest like no other peoples, as it has been their home both physically and spiritually for millennia. The BaAkas also have a champion, Louis Sarno a 57-year-old man from New Jersey NY that helps them whenever he can with medicine and food. Louis came to the Central African forest 30 ago because he fell in love with the Pygmies’ sophisticated polyphone music and stayed.

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