12 October 2009

Hiking Kibira Forest

Recently we packed up our hats and waterbottles and headed out past the village of Bugarama for a guided tour of the Kibira forest with Burundi's own crocodile hunter, Patrice Faye. The forest is beautiful and amazing. It's one of the only bits of undeveloped land in the country. It's an old forest and has a primeval feeling about it. More than one person made a Jurassic Park reference. I honestly would not have been surprised to see a brontosaurus emerge from the leafy canopy.

We started the walk through a tea plantation. I've started recognizing tea bushes by their alarmingly bright green leaves. The path through the plantation is cut lower than the vegetation, so the bushes hang over you. You know you're in a jungle as soon as you step off the road onto the path. The path is nearly invisible and the tea bushes envelope you. Even Patrice walked by the path and one of the local guides brought him back to it. And he does this trek almost every weekend!

From wikipedia: The Kibira National Park is a national park of northwestern Burundi. Overlapping four provinces and covering 400 km², Kibira National Park lies in the mountains of Congo-Nile divide. It extends from the border with Rwanda almost as far south as the town of Muramvya. It is estimated that around 16% pf the park consists of primary evergreen rain forest.... It is composed of montane rain forest containing several vegetation strata.... It is a zone rich in both animal and plant biodiversity: 644 plant species have been found in the park, as well as about 98 species of mammal (primates, servals, African civets, etc.). Bird life is also rich and varied, with 43 families and more than 200 species identified.... More than three-quarters of the water in the country’s largest dam – providing more than 50 percent of the hydroelectric energy consumed – comes from this forest. Thus the park, situated as it is on the Congo-Nile ridge, plays a fundamental role in regulating the hydrological system and protecting against soil erosion.

As you trek through the old-growth forest it gets dark and cool. It's just like being in a movie, with forest-jungle noises all around you. The Kibira is an area where there are still wild chimpanzees, and spotting one was a goal of mine for the day. Unfortunately we didn't see any. But speaking of Jurassic Park, we saw gigantic worms, snails, and slugs. We also saw two vipers. One was an adult, but it was dead. It was very cool to be able to see it close up, harmlessly. The other was a juvenile, but very much alive. Patrice scooped it up to take home. He milks snakes for their venom in order to make antivenoms. 

Patrice Faye runs several guided tours throughout Burundi, including a pirogue trip in the Rusizi delta in search of Gustave, the world's largest Nile crocodile. We will definitely be calling on him again. We'd love to spend another day in the forest searching for chimpanzees. I'll leave Gustave alone.

Photos at my flickr album.

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