By Boyd Matson
There is no better place to study endangered African forest elephants than the Dzanga Bai in the Central African Republic. Elephants are drawn in large numbers to this small clearing by the mineral rich soil. They will hang out for hours at a time making themselves easily visible to researchers and tourists, for the chance to eat dirt. The Bai located in the protected Dzanga-Ndoki National Park also offered a measure of security while the elephants were openly exposed.
Having big groups of elephants show up every day at the same spot also makes the Dzanga a target for poachers. Military patrols and ecco guards had been successfully protecting the park until May, when heavily armed poachers came into the Bai and murdered more than two dozen elephants. Conservation workers were forced to flee for their own safety. For several days no one was sure what was happening.
National Geographic Explorer in Residence and Wildlife Conservation Society Biologist Mike Fey decided to go into the Dzanga Reserve himself to assess the situation. I talked with him for my radio show National Geographic Weekend about what his was able to accomplish to insure the protection of the forest elephants. You can here the full interview at NGWeekend.com but here is part of what he had to say as well as video of the elephants in the Bai that I took a couple of years ago. I also talk with WCS biologist Andrea Turkalo about what this is such a special spot for elephants.