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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Kibale Forest National Park; a primative haven

No, not a typo or colonial ignorance - Kibale really is a fabulous place for primates, including human visitors! Kibale Forest National Park covers some 80,000 hectares of primarily rainforest in the moist south-west of Uganda, not far from the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 
The location of Kibale National Park is indicated by the end of the red arrow.
Confusingly it is not near the town of Kibale!
Past logging has degraded it, and current pressures on its edges are concerning, but it is still a superb and invaluable reserve. Its value is enhanced by the fact that its habitats continue to the south in the Queen Elizabeth National Park, providing a forested corridor some 180km long.

My very memorable day there, travelling with the estimable Rockjumper birding tours, began in the dark, because it is at dawn that the Green-breasted Pittas call. Our guides - both Gerard - were superb, finding their way through a maze of faint elephant tracks in the dark as we might make our way from bedroom to bathroom at night. 
The Gerards, top and bottom, left and right....
The rifles, which I understand to be old AK47s, were in case of unhappy elephants.
In urban Australia we are lucky enough not to need to know much about guns, but I was not reassured by these,
and I'm glad for all concerned that no annoyed elephants appeared.
The lack of a stock on one weapon alone would, I assume, make it a bit trickier to use.

Pre-dawn pitta hunt, Kibale.
It was delightful to be in the forest in the dark, then watching it slowly emerge around us. We arrived in a pitta territory in the dark, and waited until Gerard heard the faint distant call, like a wooden mallet melodiously resonating on a hollow wooden pipe. Closer up it resolved into a double note, like the very lowest end of a xylophone, with two bars being hit almost simultaneously. We dived after it and located the birds on the ground – a pair and a juvenile. Absolutely stunning birds, as pittas are, especially the three vividest blue wing stripes. 

 It was far too dark for my camera to provide you with a photograph of the bird; here is a lovely painting by early 20th century British artist Herbert Goodchild.

Green-breasted Pitta Pitta reichenowi, courtesy Wikicommons.
But the best was still to come. We walked for perhaps an hour, up and down hills, zig-zagging through the forest, then heard distant yelps and roars, and edged around bushes glistening with reeking chimp urine. Then, there she was, a female undeniably in oestrus, feeding high above us.
Chimpanzee female in oestrus, Kibale.
I find rainforest canopy photography difficult, but I hope the subject compensates.
She is part a large loose group of 130 chimps, habituated to visitors,
both researchers and fee-paying tourists.
These were the first wild apes I'd seen, and it was a remarkable experience. We watched as the big boss male threw a shrieking tantrum, rushing upright along a log, scattering all the others. He did it again later, more distantly, and the one I was watching at the time hid behind a tree trunk, peering round it until the trouble had passed. We followed them until they all climbed high into the trees, their huge strength evident in the way they swung easily up vines and trunks, often with one arm.

We assumed that that was the end of it, but not so! As we were preparing to leave, completely overwhelmed with our privilege and the experience, half a dozen males descended rapidly and proceeded to put in some serious snoozing on the forest floor. 
Reclining male chimp, Kibale.
It wouldn't matter if we'd had to sleep on the ground ourselves for such a treat, but in fact the accommodation at Primate Lodge was superb. 
Primate Lodge, Kibale National Park.
Open-air restaurant above, and my room below;
my little verandah looked across a little clearing into the rainforest.

As well as the chimps, there are another 12 primate species known from Kibale, including some uncommon ones.
L'Hoest's Monkey Cercopithecus lhoesti is restricted to the eastern Congo basin.
It is primarily terrestrial but takes to the trees when disturbed - see comment above on
my canopy photos! I've nowhere near done justice to this beautiful monkey.

Grey-cheeked Mangabey Lophocebus albigena.This somewhat scruffy delight is found west from Uganda to Guinea, travelling in troupes to gather forest fruits.
Of course there are always smaller animals to fascinate too.
Unidentified skink, Kibale.
Orbweb spider with katydid lunch, Kibale.
Platanna, or African Clawed Frog Xenopus sp., Magombe Swamp, Kibale Forest.
Widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, toothless and tongueless, it nonetheless eats
a wide variety of food courtesy of its claws with which it tears goodies apart
and pushes them down its throat.
There is of course a huge range of plants in any rainforest too, but this one especially intrigued me.
Thonningia sp., family Balanophoraceae, Kibale.
This remarkable plant is a root parasite on surrounding plants, by use of its tuber; its scaley leaves have no chlorophyll. Moreover the flowers emerge from under the ground! I'd never encountered anything like it.
Kibale forest is a delight at all levels and is an essential part of any visit to Uganda.Ultimately though, it's above all about the chimps.



David McDonald said...

Ah, how wonderful it is to be reminded that there are still some people innocent about firearms!

Re the Gerard on the left you state that 'The rifles, which I understand to be old AK47s, were in case of unhappy elephants...The lack of a stock on one weapon alone would, I assume, make it a bit trickier to use'.

I could be wrong, but I suspect that you will find that the weapon that appears to be without a stock is a 56 type assault rifle, yes modelled on the AK47/AKM. It has a folding stock that is out of sight in yr photo.


Kath H said...

I was struck by a much less colourful but fascinating parasitic Balanophora fungosa which I saw in the Cairns hinterland. According to the Nicholsons' Rainforest Plants III it is quite common in subtropical and tropical rainfordsts up to about 1000m from near Gympie to Cape York. It also occurs throughout tropical Asia and some Pacific Islands.
Best wishes,
Kath Holtzapffel

Ian Fraser said...

David, I do think of you as a font of wisdom, but it had never occurred to me to seek your advice on firearms matters! I am impressed yet again - and thank you for putting me straight. Gerard was a brilliant forest guide, but I wasn't too sure about his capacities as an elephant guard; looks that I was wrong about that too.

Kath, thank you so much for contributing to my blog, I greatly appreciate it. To my shame I was unaware of Australian Balanophoras, but I shall now endeavour to educate myself further. I look forward to hearing from you again.