Africa’s unbroken forest

Posted on 28 April 2023 By Tsoku Maela

Central Africa’s lowland rainforests cover almost two million square kilometres, an area one hundred times larger than Kruger National Park. Near the centre of this vast arboreal landscape is the 4 000km² Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, in the north of the Republic of Congo.

Photographer Scott Ramsay takes us deep into its core.

The Sangha River in the west of NouabaléNdoki is one of the Congo River’s larger tributaries and flows through the centre of the 8 000km² Sangha Trinational Forest Landscape, a world heritage site where the Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Central African Republic meet

Scattered through the vast forest are clearings known as basis. These are swampy, saline areas that draw lowland gorillas, forest elephants, sitatungas, colobus monkeys, red river hogs and Cape clawless otters. Researchers at Mbeli Bai in the south of Nouabalé-Ndoki have been researching lowland gorilla behaviour for 25 years, the longest such study in Africa.

The Sangha River is one of the Congo River’s larger tributaries. It supports thousands of people living
in villages along its banks. Conservation and communities are inextricably intertwined.

When biologists first explored the “Inner Sanctum”, an area between Mbeli Bai and Goualougo Triangle, they came across chimps that behaved as if they’d never seen humans. While we were walking an elephant track in this same area, I spotted a female chimp and her infant. They behaved similarly, first shrieking and screaming, then they calmed down and watched us
curiously for a while, before moving off across the treetops.

About 20 years ago, the first gorilla to be habituated at Mondika Camp was a silverback named Kingo. Today he’s roughly 42 years old, an old man in gorilla society. His face is wrinkled, and while I photographed him he seemed to close his eyes and take frequent naps.

W Nouabalé-Ndoki is home to at least 10 primate species, including De Brazza’s monkeys, which prefer riverine habitat that is frequently flooded, making it safer from terrestrial predators such as leopards.

Forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) are considered a separate species from their savanna cousins (Loxodonta africana). Northern Congo, including Nouabalé-Ndoki, is one of their last safe havens from ivory poachers.


This article was adapted from a version that appeared in our March 2022 magazine issue.

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