GUEMBEUL NATURE RESERVE, A PRINT FROM THE PAST.

The Gembuel Faune Reserve is one of the best places in the world to spot some of the most threatened mammal species that inhabit the Sahara and the Sahel area: damma oryx, dama gazelle, dorcas gazelle and Addax.These species have been reintroduced in the wild here.The reserve is also a good site for birding, with more than 200 species of birds: flamingoes, black-tailed godwit, European spoonbill, slender-billed gull, little stint and pied avocets among others.

This small reserve is located about 10 km from Saint Louis.I rented a taxi to get there due that there is no public transportation.The trip took about 30 minutes.The entrance fee was about 2 euros and a park guide costed about 6 euros.Once there you can see some animals in small enclosures near the entrance.

I went with a guide along a small trail that leads to the lake.Along the way we saw a warthog and a few individuals of gazelle’s dorcas.They were quite shy and difficult to capture in a shot.Once we arrived in the swamp area we saw the first individuals of oryx damma.

This species was more gregarious that gazelle dorcas, and we saw them in groups of 5 to 10 individuals.This species seemed to be a bit easier to approach and this allowed me to take some good shots.

 

Oryx Damma are very sociable and can travel in herds of up to 40 individuals.They eat mainly grass, foliage, shrubs and succulent plants.They are adapted to desert and semi-desert areas by a metabolism that enables them to function in high temperatures, without sweating.They can cool down the blood when it passes through the nasal passage before reaching the brain.Other animals like foxes and hares that live in the desert are adapted in a similar fashion by cooling their blood when circulating along their long ears and legs.

Oryx Damma,or Scimitar Oryx, was once widespread in the Sahara Desert and semi-desert areas of the Sahel.Chad and Niger used to concentrate large herds.Unfortunately, this species was hunted almost to extinction mainly for its horns and meat.Unfortunately, only very few individuals survive in Chad and Niger and some have recently been reintroduced in Tunisia, Morocco and Senegal.

Patas Monkey was another mammal that i could get close views. A small herd appeared near the lake.They were quite active running and feeding on grass and fruits on the ground.

This terrestrial species of monkey is found widespread in the Sahel zone, although in low densities.Its main habitats are grasslands and woodlands.They feed on grasses, seeds, fruits, berries and beans. They are very sociable,usually in groups of about 15 individuals.

Although my main purpose here was to see mammals, some birds caught my attention.I got great views of an African Grey hornbill perched on a tree and of a Namaqua Dove that i spotted near the trail.

An African Spur Tortoise walking near the lake was the icing on the cake ! This species of tortoise is native in the Sahara and the Sahel and its status is considered vulnerable.

The trail continue around the lake but i didn’t explore farther.Anyway, i spent a half day in this beautiful and quiet place and i got great views of some of the animals that i was looking for.

Next stop Toubacouta, a little town that i use as a base to explore the Delta du Saloum NP.See you soon my friends !!

 

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CAPE BLANC, A QUEST FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN MONK SEAL

Mauritania is a unique although seldom visited country, with some stunning landscapes and interesting ancient towns that used to take part of the desert caravan route a long time ago.Their infrastructure is limited.There are not many hotels and just a few roads.Although the country was an unsafe destination a few years ago due to Al-Qaedda activity in its desert area, it’s currently a quite safe destination, with many checkpoints along its main roads.

Mauritania is mostly covered by vast desert and semidesert areas.The desert has been continuously expanding since the mid 60’s.The country is mainly a flat area interrupted by deep canyons, plateaus and isolated peaks.The Adrar Plateau is the highest plateau, with an altitude of 500 meters, see picture below.

Mauritania is a great destination for birdwatchers, with more than 570 species of birds.Banc D’Arguin is an area of  great importance for wintering and breeding seabirds and shorebirds.Other important birding areas are Diaouling  Nature Reserve and Diawling National Park in the southern part of the country. The endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal is one of its landmark mammals, with a population of 500 individuals located on the shores of Cape Blanc, also called Ras Nouadhibou.

To get to Mauritania it was an odyssey.Firstly i crossed Western Sahara from Tarfaya to Dakhla.We stopped for a while in El-Aaiun.This town was fully controlled by the army due to the Sahara conflict.Fortunately the bus stopped for a short time. While going by bus all i could see was desert and barely any single person.I understood why this area is known by being one of the lowest populated area in the world.After 12 hours by bus i arrived in Dakhla,where i slept for one night.

Next day i arranged a shared taxi with some other people to go to the border.After a 6 hours trip we arrived in the Moroccan checkpoint.They stamped my visa and we passed through a land mined area that doesn’t belong to anybody.The mines where the remains of the previous war between Mauritania and Morocco for the control of Western Sahara when the Spanish abandoned it.Fortunately there was a “road” to follow, although i heard that a tourist died a few years ago due to the wind changed the direction of the sandy “road” and his car blowed up.I have to say that it was pretty scary.The longest trip of my life in only a distance of 3 km.When i saw the Mauritanian post on the horizon i started to breath calmly.

Once in Mauritania border, i had to pay 120 euros for a visa.There were no tourists and things went very smoothly.Finally my taxi dropped me in Nouadibhou town.I felt like i was in the middle of nowhere.I got into a taxi and told him to bring me to a hotel.He barely understood me, but then a woman got into the car and helped me to find the place.I have to say that Mauritanians were very helpful and one of the most accommodating people i have ever seen in all my trips.

Once in the hotel, i talked to a guy to contact a taxi using my basic French.The taxi driver came and i could arrange my trip to Cape Blanc for about 40 euros.

Next morning he came to pick me up.After 40 minutes driving we entered into a rough road that crossed a dunes area.The road was very sandy and the car was sliding all time.The driver put a kind of weird arab music that seemed like a mixture of psychedelia, techno and traditional music.I have to say that i got a bit sick !! :-p

Finally we arrived to Cape Blanc one hour and a half later.This peninsular area was surrounded by steep cliffs.There was a lighthouse and a small house with a guard.The guard told me that there was only one individual of monk seal on the nearby and that the rest of the colony lived in a restricted farther area controlled by the army.Even though i felt a bit upset hearing that i persisted in my research.

I explored the surroundings looking for the monk seal.I waited patiently in front of the fences that are near the cliff.The guy told me that the seal had been near here the day before in the afternoon.He showed me the tracks of the seal.Notice them on the picture below.

Afterwards i went around but no sign of the solitaire creature.I spent almost 2 hours but my search was proven fruitless.I came back to Nouadibbou quite upset.When we arrived at the city i told the driver to come again in the afternoon and we negotiated the price.

About 2 o’clock we started our second trip.We arrived about 4:00 pm there.I excitedly scrutinised every single hole of the cliffs and the small beaches that lay on the bottom of the cliffs.

Finally,after 30 minutes i saw the seal.It was sleeping on a small sandy beach.From time to time it moved her fins or it slightly changed the position of its head.I was a bit far and my camera was a bit short of reach but i managed to take some decent shots.

I took many pictures as i could till it started to get dark.About 5 pm i came back.I felt fully satisfied and the surreal music even sounded like Mozart to me !!!

I was very happy to capture some pictures of one of the most endangered seals in the world !!!

Tomorrow i am going to China to see if possible pandas in the wild and some of its interesting birdlife !!

As soon as i come back i will continue posting reports about Senegal, Gambia, India, Singapore and China !!

On the meantime if you have any suggestion or question don’t hesitate to contact me.I can answer it while traveling.

See you soon my friends !!

IFRAN NP, RAMBLING WITH BARBARY MACAQUES

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Morocco is an interesting country to visit due to its rich culture and history, with superb ancient cities and little beautiful towns.Food is very delicious, accommodation is pretty good and prices are cheap.Travel is also easy, with good roads and public transportation: bus, train or shared taxis.The latter is the fastest and inexpensive way to go.

Even though Morocco is not a famous wildlife destination, it hosts some remarkable animals.One of its most iconic mammals is the Barbary Macaque, the only macaque that lives outside Asia.It is found in the forests of the Rift,the Middle Atlas and the High Atlas.Other mammals that can be seen, although not in large numbers, are gazelles, wild boar, mufflon, Fennec Fox, Sand Cat, Least Weasel, Egyptian Mongoose, Striped Hyena, Cape Hares, European Rabbit, Crested Porcupine and the endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal.

The country is home of over 450 species of birds, which many of them are winter visitors.Northern Bald Ibis is the only endemic bird in Morocco.Some of its main highlights also include Moussier’s Redstart, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Tristram Warbler, White-headed Duck, Balearic Shearwater, Sociable Lapwing, Saker Falcon, Egyptian Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, Hooded Vulture, Ruppell’s and White-backed Vulture.

There are 11 national parks in Morocco, being the most remarkable Souss-Massa, Ifrane, Toubkal, Tazekka and Tallasemtane.Ifran NP is one of the best national parks to see Barbary Macaques and Souss-Massa is the only place where you can find Northern Bald Ibis.

I planned to go to Ifran to see Barbary Macaques. I went from Fez to Azhrou by bus.Azhrou is a nice and peaceful town located 89 km south of Fez.From there i arranged a taxi to bring me to see the macaques.The trip costed me about 30 euros.

We went in the afternoon and it took me about one hour to reach the Cedre Gourard Forest, area located between Azrou and Ifrane.I arrived there early afternoon.It was weekend and the place was a bit crowded with locals.The forest was an impressive and unique forest of cedars beautifully covered by patches of snow.

We walked for a while through the forest, near the left side of the road.After 15 minutes walking we saw the first group of them.While i was approaching, the macaques were a bit scared and run away.I had to keep a distance and sit on the floor to gain their trust.

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The macaques were active feeding on the ground.This animal mainly feeds on fruits, plants, seeds and insects.You can see them digging to look for seeds on the picture below.

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This type of macaque live in large groups, called troops, led by a dominant female.Females usually mate with different males and males, unlike other macaques, show a great care for their young.Males can be very protective with their infants and they use them to establish relations with other males.

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This species is endangered due principally to habitat loss.Intensive logging, overgrazing, firewood collecting, land clearance and charcoal burning are some of the main factors.Illegal live trade, pollution and inappropriate feeding by humans also pose a serious threat for the survival of the species.

I spend about half an hour with them.Afterwards i didn’t want to disturb them anymore and i left them.

I was glad to see these playful creatures and see one example of matriarchy in the wild !!

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Next stop, Oued Massa, looking for the endangered Northern Bald Ibis and other birds !!!

See you soon my friends !!

NGORONGORO,CALVING TIME

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Although the best months to spot wildlife are from July to September, February offers an excellent opportunity to see newborns of zebras and wildebeests.

Common Zebras are animals that usually live in family groups of one adult male (stallion), several females (mares), and their offspring.Several families of zebras join forming large herds.

Zebras performs periodically dust baths to clean their fur and remove parasites.They do it by rolling their bodies onto the dust.I had the privilege to presence this activity and take the picture that you can see below.

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Zebra males mature at the age of 4. At that age they compete with other males by kicking, pushing and biting at each other’s neck, head or legs.The victorious male forms an harem and mates with all its mares.The stallion has to defend his group from other males. When challenged, the stallion rubs his shoulder or nose with the other one as a warning sign.If the newcomer doesn’t follow the warning, a fight can start between them.

The gestation period of a mare lasts about one year.Once she give birth, the mare is ready again for breeding.Mares may deliver one baby, called foal, every year.The foal can stand and run within one day and start to eat grass within a week.Even though they continue to suckle for up to a year.Unfortunately the infant mortality rate is high, mainly due to predators like lions and hyenas.

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Wildebeests are animals that live also in large herds, mixed sometimes with zebras, to defend themselves from predators.

Males reach their maturity at about 4 years of age.When mating season comes, the herd splits into smaller groups. Males perform all type of antics to impress females.They paw the ground, rub their heads on it, gallop and buck around their territories. They can be very aggressive towards other males.They urinate and defecate to mark their territory and warn other bulls.Their mating season, which last 3 weeks, is usually timed so that most of calves are born close to the beginning of the rainy season when new grass is abundant.This occurs during the months of February and March.

The gestation period is about 8 months and a half.Most of the calves are born within a 3 weeks period.Once they give birth, the calves are able to stand and run within a day and graze also within a week.Afterwards they remain very close to their mothers due to they are an easy target for predators and they continue suckling for one year.Nonetheless their infant mortality rate is also high.

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In the picture above you can appreciate the paler coloration of calves.This is an adaptation to blend better with the environment to avoid predation.

Along the day i could see hyenas and lions actively looking for young calves.I could even witness a successful hunting of a young wildebeest by a Spotted Hyena.You can see it in the picture that i posted in my previous post.I felt very pity for the calf yet i thought that this is the way nature works, to hunt and not to be hunted.

If you check carefully the picture on top of the post you can see many calves of wildebeest.You can count them and post the number in a reply !

Even though i had already seen some of the animals in other national parks i enjoyed a lot in here.The high concentration of mammals and birds in such a small area was impressive and the astonsishing landscape  was something that i didn’t see anywhere else.I have to admit that this was my favourite national park hands down !!

Afterwards the driver dropped me in Karatu,where I slept one night.Next morning i arranged a trip with a motorcycle driver to Lake Eyasi,where i visited many interesting tribes that inhabit the shores of the lake.One of the most interesting ones was the Hadzabe, an ancient tribe that has kept their traditional nomadic style for thousands of years.See picture below.

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After Tanzania i went back to Kenya, where i visited Samburu NP and Mount Kenya, reports that you can see in my previous posts.

My next post i will talk about my following trip to Morocco, where i explored Ifran NP in search of Barbarian Monkeys !!

See you soon my friends !!!