We were recently asked to do the annual aerial survey of The Okapi Reserve and just got it in before the end of the year. This was a real training time as we changed observer crews each flight to test the guys abilities to see things well and work without throwing up. I was also checking out Chad Dimon on the subtleties of aerial survey flying. It is later than we usually do the survey and smoke restricted long range visibility but it was great to get back over the forest low level, and both Chad and I were excited to be there.
We fly the reserve at about 500 feet looking for poachers, mining incursions, illegal cutting of trees, and settlements inside the park. There are some outstandingly beautiful areas which very few people ever get to see, and it is a privilege to actually start to know the landmarks after the years of flying here. The forest is so thick, with a triple layer of vegetation, that seeing animals is very rare. But every once in a while there is an opening in the forest, an edo, where animals will come and eat grass and just be in the open for a bit. They are somethings still out when we fly over early in the day, or at least we can see the elephant “spoor”, or footprints, across the grass. Sometimes there are also bits of grass along the rivers. We saw few elephants but quite a bit of spoor, as well as some of the forest buffalo. They are very reddish brown, unlike the black Cape buffalo I am used to from the savannah.
When I was not flying I tried to spend as much time as I could with my Mbuti pygmy friends. Although I have about 50 poison arrows, I have given away all my Mbuti bows. I was glad to be able to get a few more, as well as a spear. I took a walk in the forest and was able to get some of the huge bean pods called “njamba”. Most had been eaten by squirrels but I was able to get enough to make Christmas decorations for our friends from the seeds.