Since 2012, the Central African Republic (CAR) has been going through turbulent times due to religious and cultural conflicts. Although there are still conflicts today, there is an unspoilt wilderness in the far south of the CAR known as the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve.
John Addison, our director, affectionately calls this part of the CAR ‘dinosaurland’. A place so wild that a T-rex smashing through the trees would not look out of place. A destination with rainforests, pangolins, western lowland gorillas, goliath tigerfish and riverside beach escapes rarely visited by even the most daring explorers.
This is the CAR’s Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, one of Africa’s last vestiges of unexplored wilderness and a place definitely worth visiting.
Where to stay and how to get there
We suggest staying at the peaceful Sangha Lodge for any trip into the CAR. The owner and manager, Rod Cassidy, is extremely knowledgeable on the plants and animals of the area as well as highly respected in the local community. Located in the south west of the CAR, the reserve is far from the conflict areas mentioned in the news and can be reached via a flight to Bangui and then a charter to the nearby airstrip.
The amazing Dzanga Bai
Dzanga-Sangha is famous for its extraordinary Dzanga Bai. This large mineral clearing in the forest is the scene of almost every forest elephant photograph or documentary most people have ever seen.
The Dzanga Bai (also known as the ‘village of elephants’) undoubtedly lives up to its name with herds of elephants found bathing in the mud. It is an important source of minerals and nutrients for the elephants and also attracts other animals such as antelope, the threatened bongo, forest hog and African forest buffalo.
Rod Cassidy’s guides will set you up in a hide which overlooks the Bai, with views of all the weird and wonderful creatures it attracts out of the dense forest.
Gorillas without the mountains
Uganda and Rwanda are visited primarily to see the highly endangered mountain gorillas. Few people know about its smaller and more nimble cousin, the western lowland gorilla.
Luckily, Dzanga-Sangha has one of the largest populations of western lowland gorillas in the world. Tracking these gorillas would not be possible without the advanced senses of pygmy trackers. With two habituated groups in the park, it is almost guaranteed that you’ll see them on a trek (with a 98% success rate).
Unlike their cousins, in the mountainous rainforests of East Africa, these great apes can even be spotted not far above the ground in the treeline.
Hunting with the Ba’Aka
You can learn about, and experience, the Ba’Aka pygmy culture by accompanying them on a hunt where they use nets to enclose and snare game – a hunting method that is one of the most unique in the world.
The Ba’Aka women will show you the medicinal plants they use and you can taste a classic meal of liana leaves with a sauce made from forest nuts. Watch how the Ba’Aka construct a protective hut against the rain in no time at all.
When he’s not managing Sangha Lodge, you can Rod Cassidy (ornithologist and bird-crazy) with his binoculars looking out for some of the 370+ bird species in the park. The familiar African grey parrot is native to these forests and can be spotted in the treetops, while the extremely rare picathartes can be spotted nesting under waterfalls.
Rod Cassidy and Barry Watkins recently discovered a previously unidentified population of this extremely uncommon species – the red-necked picathartes – breeding in a small colony of three birds less than 5 km from the lodge.
Power up your torch and go searching at night for vermiculated fishing owls and Frazer’s eagle owls which live in the area surrounding the lodge. A true birding paradise.
Sangha Lodge is at the centre of ceaseless animal activities and it won’t take a lot for you to fall in love with the region. Forest walks to secret waterfalls, over 300 species of birds flying from branch to branch and three native species of African pangolin are a short walk from the camp.
Night walks from the camp give you the chance to spot the rare potto, Thomas’s bushbaby, and even an African palm civet if you tread lightly enough. For keen fishermen, there’s plenty of places to cast a line. Goliath tigerfish patrol the waters of the Sangha River in front of the lodge and there are plenty of other strange fish endemic to this river system.
Round off the day by boarding the lodge boat with drinks and food, before heading down river to have a relaxing braai on your own private beach.
There are very few unexplored regions left on our planet and Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve is one of them. Wild Frontiers are now running scheduled departures to the reserve, where unspoilt wilderness await you.