Many of you will remember that I once lamented about how I failed miserably at taking professional quality photos of monkeys on the southern end of the island. Well, the opportunity arose for me to go on the latest rendition of the BBPP expedition. This year was a tad different, as it was more science focused through study of more taxa.
Because some of the scientists who were suppose to come couldn’t get visas in time, this year saw a rather light crew on the expedition. I feel wrong even using that word, expedition, for this years trip. It was much more like an extended class field trip as only one of the participants was not associated with our university.
Waking up well before the crack of dawn to catch a bus for the ~1 hour trip from Malabo to Luba isn’t the most exciting way to start a trip. Yet, you could feel the excitement growing as we started to unload the bus, sort the gear, and load it on to the boat. It was with great anticipation that we set on the ~3 hour boat ride. But an hour in that ferver had faded, and naps were trying to be had. I was lucky enough to sleep most of the ride, and woke up just in time to see clouds cover the caldera.
By the time we arrived at the first camp, Moraka, clouds had hidden the caldera from view. But it was still an awesome sight to see camp again. Although this year there didn’t seem to be enough tents. . . The turtle researchers who live on these beaches, for 5 months, had the local guys, from the Bubi tribe, make huts covering their tents.
After settling in and sorting the gear we put off research for the next day. It was good thing to because I had a chance to take a little walk to find some monkeys. It was with great apprehension that I set off. I knew that a year ago I spent two weeks in this same area and didn’t get a great picture. So it was to my utter surprise that I came across a group of Golden-bellied Crown Monkeys (Cercopithecus pogonias pogonias) that weren’t too scared by my presence, either that or totally oblivious. But there was just one problem, they were at the top of a steep embankment and I knew there was no way I was getting up it quietly. So I decided to go back and walk about 200 meters down the beach, enter the rainforest and double back to them from the side. I was about 3/4 of the way back to them when I decide to sit and listen to see if I could tell which direction they were moving. That’s when I looked up and saw a Bioko Pennant’s Red Colobus (Procolobus pennantii) one of the 25th most endangered primates in the world, just sitting in a tree.
I did end up finding the group of C. pogonias about 20 meters away, and got a few good pictures of them too.
On returning to camp, I was on a bit of a high, knowing that I’ve just had some great encounters and taken some stellar shots. The next day it was on to research. Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program recently joined the Central African Biodiversity Alliance, which leads a study of about 9 species looking to develop a theory about how these species evolved and hoping that this knowledge will help with conservation under the effects of climate change.
We were specifically looking at skinks, birds, and mice, taking their morphological measurements and DNA. And when I say we, I mean that I wasn’t actually doing any of this because I’m not certified, I was just helping and doing odd tasks. It was still fun and interesting nonetheless.
While catching skinks, birds, and mice is fun and memorable, we witnessed one of the most impressive lightning storms ever. It’s something that I won’t soon forget, partly because I have this picture:
After a week at Moraka, we hike to Moaba (6 hours down the beach). Moaba has become sort of a tourist destination, especially for expatriots, as a road was built to the village of Ureka (1 hr hike from Moaba). One can now drive from Malabo and be in Ureka 2 hours later, whereas it used to take an hour driving and a ~9 hour trek through the jungle over steep terrain. Needless to say, it has helped the people of Ureka, but it has also increased hunting of monkeys and turtles (which are both against the Equatoguinean law). I’ve taken advantage of this road at least 3 times in the past year, coming down to camp for the weekend. So I had met the turtle researchers of Moaba camp before, but it was good to see them again.
Life at Moaba was good. I spent a lot of time out taking picture, exploring, and chatting. One day I went out looking for Bioko Drills (Mandrillus leucophaeus poensis) and came across a group of about 15 to 20 that were crossing a river bed to eat. I was able to watch the whole group cross the river and snuck up around the left side to get a closer view. It was only later in the day while I was chatting to a documentary film maker that works on the island, that this is probably a bad idea. That is that familiarizing a endangered species in a heavily hunted area to humans, and human presence is probably not a good thing. He gave me some pointers about how to passively watch for drills and I try them out the next day (but didn’t see any, that’s the way it goes, often, for wildlife photographers).
This was maybe my 4th time to Moaba, and the first that I had heard of the Heart of Moaba. So I decided I should go look for it, realizing I was too late to go with the group that left about 30 minutes prior. I felt kind of like John Locke, from the show Lost, as I really didn’t know where I was going but was following their footprints. I did a pretty good job, as I was along the trail, but got hung up where you have to cross a group of rocks, then scale a really steep embankment. Anyways, I was mulling around when they came back and told me the way. It was worth it!
The Heart of Moaba is something like a cenote, except for the fact this isn’t limestone and the water underneath is sea water moved by tidal forces and waves. It was literally vertigo inducing. Watching the water move up in down was memorizing, dizzying, and it felt like your soul was being sucked out of you. The water usually would move up and down about 30 feet, but every few minutes it was move significantly more. I’d approximate the biggest swing I saw was about 60 feet. Absolutely dizzying.
The last day I was in Moaba on of the local guys found a pangolin that he brought to show us. I’ve seen pangolins before but they have all been hanging dead, for sale, on the side of the road. This was the first live one, and it was pretty cool. Too bad it was really dark that day, and the little guy wouldn’t hold still. Oh well.
I decided to hitch hiking with a buddy back to Luba, where a car was going to pick us up. We knew that the construction workers building the road, military barracks and cell tower brought in lunch everyday, so we figured we could catch a ride back with them. We didn’t know though that it was Chinese New Year, and the only people working were Malian and didn’t have plans to go back to Luba before nightfall. Usually this road is teaming with Chinese construction workers. Well, we did manage to catch a ride with some Chinese tourists (obviously not construction workers) who went down to Casacada de Ureka, for a quick photo opportunity.
That is all.