By Carolyn Jost Robinson
The rain had not let up all morning. Rain is typical during a wet season in the Dzanga-Sangha Protected Areas, Central African Republic. It was getting a bit late to be leaving for a trip to the famous Dzanga Bai to observe the elephants but the weather had delayed our departure. Because of the rain, it was unlikely that we would see the usual number of 50-200 elephants. However, we only had two-and-half months to complete our research, leaving little time for excursions to our favorite forest locations.
Although I had visited the clearing during my doctoral fieldwork, this trip held special significance for me. I was hesitant to pass it up. It was to be my third time to Dzanga Bai since I started conducting research there in 2008. While my work studying hunters and conducting nocturnal census estimates of forest antelope had allowed me a fair share of elephant encounters, I knew nothing could compare to the wet trek ahead of us. It is the famous Dzanga Bai, after all. This time, I would be making the trek with my mentor, Dr. Melissa Remis, who has been studying the role of human-wildlife relationships in the region with colleague Rebecca Hardin for over twenty years. With us were several generations of our local BaAka trackers with whom we had shared countless hours in the forest tracking, discussing and imagining wildlife.
When talking about landscapes across the Congo Basin it is difficult for even the most seasoned researcher to avoid accidentally evoking tropes of the exotic. Such imagery can stir up simultaneous feelings of fear and anticipation commonly associated with what we envision as “the wildness of Africa.” While such evocative imagery has served to spark interest in this region of the world, it is important not overlook the multitude of layers woven into every image of Africa’s wild places, exotic wildlife and enchanting faces.
No image is more laden with narrative than that of the Dzanga Bai (translation: Village of Elephants). The bai, also called a saline, is an elephant created landscape. Each day upwards of 200 forest elephants (Loxodanta cyclotis) convene here from across the region to drink mineral salts. More....