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AdventurAfrica’s August-September 2012 Tour

Feb 06, 2012 No Comments by
"We feel surrounded by forest spirits who appear and disappear at their pleasure. Unseen, they look at us, controlling without effort their distance from us. We feel like intruders in a world that is not ours, one we do not belong to, clumsy and unable to move effectively; easily lost."

It's dawn and after a warm night and a regenerating breakfast made of coffee, chapati and fruit jam or Nutella, we leave our tents and we head for the Udzungwa Mountains National Park (UMNP).
The mountains, which rise from the flat and fertile Kilombero Valley, reach their highest elevation at 8461ft (2579m), with Mount Luhombero, and are covered by lush primary forest that scientists estimate to be more than 30 million years old. UMNP is a place of primary importance for biodiversity and many endemic species that call this place home, have been recently identified and studied.

AdventurAfrica-Udzungwa Mountains National Park-Iveco ACM80
...on the road to Udzungwa Mountains National Park, southern Tanzania

Today we will reach deep into the forest in search of the Sanje Mangabeys, a new primate species discovered recently and which lives exclusively in this area.

A call in the forest (short story of a discovery):

The Sanje Mangabeys have lived in the shelter of the Udzungwa Mountains forest from time immemorial, known only to the local populations. However, due to the lack of a strong written tradition, their existence was never documented. The official discovery of this group of primates is credited to the anthropologist Katherine Homewood and her coworker Alan Rogers in 1979. During a survey in the forest, for the first time they heard the call of the Mangabeys, a type of primate that, as far as anyone knew at that time, did not live in the area. Homewood and Rogers investigated thoroughly, stimulated by that clue, and were able to contact a local who kept a specimen as a pet. They asked to see the animal and with much surprise and elation theyimediately understood they were the discovery of a new species of primates, the Sanje Mangabeys indeed, an endemic species that live only here and which we know today survive only a few thousand individuals.

Along the lines of the tracking programs of gorillas and chimpanzees, in the last fifteen years the Park's authorities have identified a particular group of Sanje Mangabeys, and thanks to the daily work of a patient group of ranger-trackers who follow the monkeys as they move, these primates have gradually become accustomed to human presence. The result of this laudable project is that, since 2007, UMNP visitors can observe, at relatively short distance, the Mangabeys, a normally secretive and extremely difficult to approach species.
The still and warm air of the night covers like a blanket the surrounding forest, still quiet and sleepy. Our trackers have already been out in the forest for a couple of hours, following the Njokamoni group and are in constant radio contact with our guides who are waiting for us at the Njokamoni trailhead.

AdventurAfrica-Udzungwa Mountains National Park-Njokamoni trail
Starting out at the Njokamoni trailhead

We hit the trail and the sight of a group of elephants in a clearing gives us the enthusiasm to continue, longing for more excitement. After about one hour of hiking, we reach our trackers. We are told that the monkeys are everywhere around us but despite all efforts we do not see anything. All we hear are the thuds of wild mangoes hitting the ground after being consumed by their invisible eaters. We leave the trail and we start climbing the steep slopes of the mountain. Occasionally, we are able to glimpse some monkeys in the trees in front of us, but it's always too high, too distant or too brief. We feel surrounded by forest spirits who appear and disappear at their pleasure. Unseen, they look at us, controlling without effort their distance from us. We feel like intruders in a world that is not ours, one we do not belong to, clumsy and unable to move effectively; easily lost.

AdventurAfrica-Udzungwa Mountains National Park-Sanje Mangabeys
Hard to see at first, Sanje Mangabeys become very friendly and curious once reciprocal trust has been established

Our trackers invite us to continue with firm and reassuring hand gestures. We are invited to trust and be patient. After another climb up the steep sides of the mountain, we reach a small, level, clearing. According to our trackers, it's time to sit quietly and to wait patiently, so we sit together and we keep silent. The tranquility of the forest envelopes us like a cloak. Gradually, but distinctly, the sounds of the monkeys start approaching. On some far away branches we discover individuals watching closely, suspicious and wary. With binoculars we observe distinctly some members of the group. It's already a great thrill, but even more exciting is discovering that, little by little, the entire Njokamoni group is closing in. We have earned their trust and the monkeys have become naturally attracted to us and they begin to approach. In a few minutes, we are literally surrounded by the entire group, quietly resting on the branches around us, just a few feet away. We have the rare opportunity to observe their behavior at close range and to take thousands of photographs under ideal conditions. We observe the adults constantly busily extracting the pulp from wild mangoes; we look at the youngsters playing and chasing on the branches at lightning speed. Then the entire group falls quiet. The adults find a spot on the branches and slowly fall asleep. The little ones get close to their mothers and subside, reassured by the physical contact with the adults.
It was well worth waiting and sweating on the trail. We are in the middle of the forest surrounded by the silence and peace that only unspoiled natural places can convey and, above all, we are at the feet of a large group of seldom seen primates resting around us. We bring home plenty of good pictures, but it is the mix of thrill and emotion that makes us happier. We will meet the Njokamoni group again and again, but the thrill of the first encounter remains unique and unrepeatable.

AdventurAfrica-Udzungwa Mountains National Park-Sanje Mangabeys
AdventurAfrica-Udzungwa Mountains National Park-Sanje Mangabeys
Enjoying and photographing the spirits of the forest!

Join us, on one of our tours for the upcoming 2012 season. We'll enjoy walking safaris and Sanje Mangabeys tracking on any of them!
Please visit our safari page for all details regarding these trips.

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