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Undiscovered Congo: Gorillas & Wildlife of the Rain Forest

Track Western Lowland Gorillas in Africa's Most Remote Tropical Wilderness
Day 1: Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo
Arrive in Brazzaville, capital of the stable Republic of the Congo, a city of 2 million that lies on the west bank of the enormous Congo River. Vestiges of the city’s French colonial heritage are still evident in some of its architecture and wide boulevards. Southwest Congo, with Brazzaville at its center, is home to 70 percent of the country’s population, while the interior is virtually uninhabited, covered by vast tracts of pristine tropical rain forest and fingers of moist savanna. We'll have an orientation this evening over a welcome dinner with our Expedition Leader.

Day 2: Ngaga Camp, Ndzehi Forest
We fly north by chartered plane into the heart of the Congo Basin. The many rivers that drain the basin provide arteries via which to access the rain forest’s depths, where endemic wildlife is dispersed amongst exotic greenery and traditional B'Aka Pygmy culture endures. En route to camp, we transition through a variety of habitats, seeing evidence of resident forest mammals and birdlife.

Our destination, Ngaga Camp, lies on the southwest boundary of Odzala-Kokoua National Park. Ngaga Camp is our base for tracking the western lowland gorilla, the most plentiful of Africa’s four types of gorillas, though it is critically endangered due to bush meat hunting, disease and habitat loss. Several gorilla groups live near the camp in troops of 10-25 individuals, each headed by a male silverback. Two of the seven resident groups are habituated for tourist visits, while a third is regularly visited by researchers. We occasionally see one of the other groups as we are tracking a designated troop through the forest. On arrival at camp, we have afternoon tea and an opportunity to settle in before an orientation on western lowland gorillas. If time permits, we have an introductory forest walk or a sundowner by the Ngaga stream.

Days 3 & 4: Gorilla Tracking & Wildlife Viewing
We rise early each morning in anticipation of a full day of adventures after breakfast. We set out very early on foot into the surrounding forest to seek the gorillas. Sometimes we locate them quickly, while on other occasions we may spend several hours searching for them in the dense foliage of the rain forest. On each occasion, once we have found them, we have approximately one full hour to sit in their presence, watching them forage for food, smiling at the youngsters playing, marveling at the great strength and size of the silverback.

Tracking times can sometimes go beyond lunch, while other times we are back at camp in time for a siesta. In the afternoon, we take a walk to look for varied forest inhabitants. We may see other primates such as crowned and moustached monkeys, while chimpanzees are frequently heard and sometimes seen. Keep an eye out for diminutive forest duikers as well. Birdlife around Ngaga Camp is diverse: we may see the very large black-casqued wattled hornbill, the great blue turaco, and a host of others. After relaxing with a sundowner on the deck at camp, the deepening dark around Ngaga comes alive with sound, as tree hyraxes begin to wail and the loud squeals of the galagos can be followed as they leap effortlessly from tree to tree. Exclusive night walks on safe wooden pathways allow us to search for signs of intriguing nocturnal wildlife species.

Day 5: Lango Camp, Odzala-Kokoua National Park
This morning we depart on a 3- to 4-hour wildlife drive en route to Lango Camp, set deep within Odzala-Kokoua National Park. If time allows, we stop at the Mbomo Village to see the sponsored community garden where the camps gather most of their fresh fruits and vegetables, and we may have a chance to visit the village market. Bordered on the west by Gabon, the 5,000 square-mile park is one of Africa’s oldest, established in 1935. It protects a crucial wildlife haven as part of a transfrontier park that also includes portions of Gabon and the Central African Republic. The region gets 60 inches of rain annually, nurturing a diverse mosaic of habitats that include forest, marsh, swamp and savanna dotted with islands. Near camp, the Lekoli and Kokoua rivers flow into main Mambili, a tributary of the mighty Congo. Wet, grassy open areas called salines, or bais, offer a good chance for wildlife sightings as forest dwellers emerge in pursuit of water, minerals, salt and sedges. This afternoon there's time to take a short guided walk through the area around Lango Bai to search for wildlife, before dinner is served in camp.

Days 6 & 7: Exploring Odzala-Kokoua National Park
We rise early for a light breakfast and coffee on the main deck overlooking Lango Bai, then embark on the day's activities. Possibilities include extended walks around the bai to observe birds frequenting mineral licks, hiking into the gallery forest to search for wildlife, or a game drive to the jetty for boat trip down the Lekoli River. Each day we'll return to camp for lunch and a rest break, then head out for an afternoon activity, typically followed by an evening drive back to camp in time for dinner.

Wildlife around Lango Camp is varied. Forest buffalo and harnessed bushbuck are often seen in the bai, while a troop of Guereza colobus monkeys frolics in the trees. Boat trips on the Lekoli River may reveal elephants, river hogs, grey-cheeked mangabeys, blue duikers and possibly even the elusive bongo on the banks. The river system is also a magnet for birds: among the multitude of species we might see are kingfishers, egrets, goliath heron, African fish eagle, palm-nut vulture, yellow-mantled widowbird, green-backed heron, white-throated blue swallows, and the brilliant flashes of red from guinea turacos.

Day 8: Brazzaville / Home

After an early breakfast, we drive approximately 45 minutes to the M'boko airstrip where we board our plane for the flight back to Brazzaville to connect with onward flights.

Physical Rating: Moderate to Difficult

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