The Elephant Bai
Forest Clearing Offers Rare View of Elusive Elephants
In a three-part series for Morning Edition, NPR/National Geographic Radio Expeditions makes the journey to Turkalo's camp. The team starts in the Central African Republic's capital of Bangui and travels down hundreds of miles of harrowing dirt roads to the dense forest and the sheltered clearing in it where Turkalo works.
Turkalo, a researcher with the New-York based Wildlife Conservation Society, studies forest elephants, a sub-species that is little known because the animals are difficult to find. But at a natural clearing in the Dzanga-Sangha Dense Forest Special Reserve, elephants gather daily to root around in the mineral-rich soil.
At this bai, observers can often see dozens of forest elephants, sometimes more than a hundred.
Poaching and logging remain constant threats, but Turkalo is managing to build a database about the elephants that is unique in the world. In the course of doing so, she's won friends and made enemies among the Africans in the area. But she remains determined to stay, both to continue her study and make sure the conservation efforts she leads don't falter and leave the forest elephants vulnerable to the many outsiders who would hunt them out if she were not there.
The Radio Expeditions team also enjoyed a unique opportunity to spend an entire night at the bai and watch as scores of animals wandered through: elephants, sitatungas, forest buffalo, a red river hog, a wooly-necked stork, grey heron, sandpipers, snipes, Hartlaub's ducks, cattle egrets, black headed heron, and at dawn, African gray parrots.
Under a full moon, the crew camped on an observation platform deep in the forest to make Radio Expeditions' first surround sound recordings, capturing 11 hours of the sounds of insects, bats, frogs and elephants. Read more about the recordings made at the bai at the Radio Expeditions Tech Corner.
Coming this fall: Radio Expeditions returns to the Central African Republic to report on researcher Katy Payne's Elephant Listening Project. Read details of the project at Cornell University's Web site.
Facts about the African elephant
International Fund for Animal Welfare
Wildlife Conservation Society
Radio Expeditions Megatransect: Michael Fay's journey across the Congo basin