15 December 2007

Mole National Park and West African wildlife

October 1

In The Gambia, an early morning or evening walk would sometimes afford me the opportunity to see some warthogs or monitor lizards. Most Saturdays, if I left the Panchang lumo (weekly market) by early or mid-afternoon I'd usually see a pack of colobus monkeys crossing the north bank highway on my bike ride home. Once, on trek between Buduk and Chamen, we saw about one hundred baboons climbing up the mini-escarpment from the rice fields near the river bank. Plus there's Bubu, the police station's baboon mascot. And I got to see some hippos and chimps on our trip to River Gambia National Park. Not much large wildlife, though.

In Mole National Park in Ghana, I saw all of the aforementioned (well, no monitor lizards), only some were largely domesticated. The monkeys, baboons and warthogs walked around like any regular domestic West African animal, sorting through the trash generated by the Mole staff quarter's residents, with the warthogs wallowing in random patches of mud and in the gutters. As a result, rubbish was strewn all over the periphery of the staff quarters.

One we headed a little way onto the park grounds we saw, in addition to indifferent baboons and warthogs, three species of relatively skittish antelope. This was nice, as I'd never seen any in Gambia. After some more walking, on two of my three outings we saw, and got very close to, elephants. The first time, it was just the guide DK, Oliver (a tourism office transfer from Kumasi on his first park hike) and myself. We watched the three elephants eat for about twenty minutes, the we left them to it. That afternoon I visited Oliver to chat and watch Nigerian standup on his office PC. Ghanaian civil servants, toiling away!

The second time, I was in one of three groups of ten. This time we met five elephants. DK had us stay a while, so we got to watch them spray themselves with water from a mud patch. One our way back up the hill to the camp, we saw another elephant taking a bath in a waterhole.

Mole was a fun experience, especially as we got within twenty metres of the elephants. I think the park could easily charge more than $1.50 per person on the two hour guided walk, but I did notice that the park guides did not record the number of visitors on each hike, so a fair amount must get chopped. In all, the setup is a bit amateurish, and it's a shame about the rubbish all over the camp.

My other wildlife sighting of note was in Busua, a southwestern village I visited when I first entered Ghana from Cote d'Ivoire. One morning I woke up, strolled up to the beach, and saw a few whales swimming and spouting water just off the coast.

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