Last night I had dinner with some WWF staff, some who work in the reserve and others who work here in the capital. We went to a Cameroonian lady’s house where she makes delicious food for you if call in advance. I finally got to meet Louis Sarno, a legendary figure for anyone who visits this country. Twenty-seven years ago, he came to record the music of the Ba’aka pygmies. He ended up staying, marrying a Ba’aka and adopting her son from his birth. The video above is a trailer for a movie that was based on his life. He offered me to go visit his village and maybe stay a few nights in the forest—an offer I definitely will take up!! The Ba’aka are legendary trackers and hunters (the success of the gorilla habituation program is largely attributed to their tracking skills), so I can’t wait to pick up some new skills.
I spent most of dinner talking to a Cameroonian, Alain, who came here as a consultant on the fight against poaching. Back in his home country (neighboring the CAR), the ivory trade is a huge problem, though they have made a lot of progress. He told me how Hong Kong’s government, with the help of Interpol, helped them to seize the largest shipment of ivory ever!. It was pretty fascinating to talk to an African who is passionate about conservation. Last year, I had to convince a Cameroonian that conservationists don’t actually care more about chimpanzees than humans, and the only way I could get him to budge was to tell him how people pay around $800 USD to see the gorillas in Rwanda, and how Australia’s sharks have been calculated to bring in millions of dollars in tourism. Alain talked about how the Bantu, the majority ethnic group of Sub-Saharan Africa, feel entitled to use natural resources—like bushmeat—as much as they want. The rest of the night was spent trying to explain how Bangui was different to Hong Kong, if at all, (most of the table laughed at the asker), and repeatedly saying I was too tired to drink any more beer.
Apparently the last car that went to Bayanga (the town near the reserve) left on Tuesday at 10 am, and got there on Wednesday at 10 pm… There are huge holes in the road that large trucks have been getting stuck around, effectively blocking the way. The only real way to get from here to there is to hitch a ride with a WWF car, so the cars tend to get packed. Today, six people are going. Should be a comfortable 15 hour car ride….
I was also informed that the vet who was running the lab that I was going to work in (and who was also going to train me well enough to run the lab in her absence) had to be medevac-ed the day before I landed. Not sure if she’s coming back, so I don’t know if the lab is going to continue to exist… Hope she’s ok!