June has been my first full month at Ngaga and the only 'darkness' I have encountered here in the so-called “heart of darkness” has been the comforting shade on the forest floor provided by the towering canopy above. There is life everywhere in this tropical rainforest – one life, which embraces every animal and plant in it. Time has divided the forest up into millions of parts, big and small, but each is an integral part of the whole. It's not quite like southern Africa where one sees mammals en masse. They are here, but it's trickier to spot them given the terrain and vegetation. But, once you learn to look closer, an amazing world awaits: the world of the small stuff.
Leaning against a Barteria fistulas tree can give you an unwelcome surprise, as there is a species of ant that has co-evolved in remarkable way with this tree – the tree provides the ants with shelter and food for their larvae, while the ants fearlessly attack any plant or animal that dares to come near their host. These ants also farm aphids for the honeydew they secrete, just as we farm dairy cattle for milk.
June at Ngaga has been a great month for butterflies, butterflies and more butterflies – representing every colour of the spectrum. Of the 28 000 species worldwide, some 80% occur in tropical rainforests. They're not shy either – stand still in the right spot long enough and they'll come to you (or your boots when hung outside to dry). This month we witnessed an epic migration of Cymothoe caenis, a species of white glider. Although butterflies aren't as efficient pollinators as bees, they do cover much larger distances and so still play an important role in the regeneration of the forest.
Perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but spiders of all shapes and sizes abound in the rainforest – we found seven different species of jumping spider on the deck alone. Take a closer look at these tiny, compact spiders and you will find some of the most strikingly pretty arachnids.
Forest birds are everywhere but whoever tells you forest birding is easy is wrong. It's not – but with patience it can be very rewarding. Some of our favourite species this month include great blue turacos, a bare-cheeked trogon and black-headed bee-eaters, to mention but a few.
While the forests of the Congo basin are very far from the bright lights of any city – and that is part of their appeal – there is still an abundance of nightlife at Ngaga. Cloaked in darkness, the forest reveals its other side. Galagos are spotted often on night walks and I've been lucky enough to have had some excellent sightings of central pottos and anomalures (flying squirrels).
Of course, these examples represent just a drop in this marvellous ocean. Alongside these many wonderful smaller creatures, Congo also boasts some very special larger mammals too. While the main focus at Ngaga is on tracking western lowland gorillas, we are realising that many of the other large mammals we associate more with Lango also spend time in the Ngaga / Ndzehi area. We've seen tracks and signs of elephant, bongo and hogs all around the concession, but have not physically seen any. It's fantastic to know that they are here though. Tracks have indicated that elephants do on occasion stroll right past camp, but they do so as yet unseen.
Putty-nosed monkeys are seen on a daily basis and this month we recorded sightings of northern talapoins and moustached monkeys. Chimpanzees were also seen a couple of times this month, but they don't hang around for long. Very exciting nonetheless. We actually hear them quite often around the forest, so perhaps over time they will become more tolerant of our presence.
And last but by no means least… the western lowland gorillas. Both Neptuno and Jupiter, the heads of the two groups of habituated gorillas, have had a busy time protecting their groups from solitary silverbacks looking to start a family of their own. Neptuno's movements have been of particular interest in this regard, as we've seen him move to both the northern- and southernmost extremes of his home range.
By far the most exciting bit of news for Jupiter's group is the arrival of a new baby, taking the group tally up to 23 individuals.
Gorilla tracking excursions have all been successful, barring one morning where Neptuno's group was not found due to an inter-group encounter the night before. Durations have varied from two- to 10-hour round-trips. The quality of sightings have generally been good, sometimes challenging and on quite a few occasions, life-changing.