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Pete Martin ¦ Transformational Journeys

Mole National Park.

GHANA | Tuesday, 16 October 2018 | Views [34]

2016 05 06 Mole, Ghana (15)

2016 05 06 Mole, Ghana (15)

At the entrance to Mole National Park, I am introduced to my safari guide. Robert is a serious middle-aged man with a large rifle. When I ask him why he needs a rifle, he explains that it’s in case we have any difficulties with the animals. I check with him whether he’s ever had to use it. He says he hasn’t. He then adds wryly, “Only on hunters.”

I chuckle at this but it’s a sombre issue. Mole National Park, in northern Ghana, has no boundary fences around its near five thousand square kilometres area and some local clans still hunt its animals. Village chiefs still use animal skins to sit on as a mark of their importance and to emphasise their character. Robert remarks that an illegal lion killing was recorded as recently as 2004. Later I read a report that confirms Robert’s assertion. An article entitled “The Decline of Lions in Ghana’s Mole National Park” by Burton, Buedi, Balangtaa, Kpelle, Sam and Brashares, published in the African Journal of Ecology in 2010, notes that local villagers have reported a continuing tradition of lion hunting (for ceremonial, medicinal and nutritional purposes). The selling of lion skins and claws was also observed at a market in the nearby town of Tamale. The report concludes that the direct killing of lions in and around Mole National Park is certainly likely to have played a role in their population decline and that there is a similar crisis facing lion populations in much of West and Central Africa.

As usual for me, the safari drive is boring. We go for miles without seeing very much. Warthogs and baboons abound, frolicking freely at the park workers’ houses as well as at the lodge. I see plenty of antelope – I had no idea that there were so many types – plus monkeys and baboons, but that’s it. On our return I witness a falcon swoop viciously to prey on a large snake dangling from a branch. After a pleasant, yet unspectacular, two hour drive, Robert promises me that we will see some elephants tomorrow.

It’s an early start with Robert’s promises of elephants. However, the day doesn’t begin too well. The white tourists have already gathered, talking very loudly. I join the safari staff in the shade instead. Robert asks if I want to join them for the introduction. He gives me another wry smile when I refuse.

Before the talk finishes, Robert nudges me and we are the first to take a jeep out. I climb up on to the cage on the roof of the vehicle and once he has whispered directions to the driver Robert joins me. We race off. It seems that Robert doesn’t want anyone to follow us. A couple of quick turns, meaning I must hold tight onto the cage so as not to be thrown overboard, and we are back at the staffs’ housing area. The driver turns off the engine and we roll quietly until we come to a halt. Robert motions me to climb down. He points. There is some rustling behind a large bush.

I walk toward the back of one of the houses. Less than a hundred metres away a large grey elephant emerges from behind the green foliage. It lifts its heads and stares right at me. The elephant holds my gaze with sad, world weary eyes and then, with a swish of its trunk, more vegetation is consumed. It’s as if the animal had actually acknowledged me. Good morning to you as well. Robert gives me a nod. He has done what he promised.

The elephant walks towards me, along the small path at the rear of the single story dwelling. I look for guidance from Robert. He calmly motions for me to move away, only slightly further back, to allow the elephant to turn and march slowly along the side of the house. The animal is about the same size as the building and blocks it from sight as it ambles along. It’s a magnificent beast. According to Robert, it’s not as large as the others in the park, but this one is calm and at ease amongst the rangers and workers, seeking interaction with them rather than the tourists. The elephant turns away from me and moves toward the front of the house. Robert beckons me closer. I notice the woman of the house stands outside at her gate, holding her baby, as the elephant passes. Neither human nor animal are concerned with each other, sharing time and space peacefully, each totally unafraid of the other. The elephant pulls a large bush up from the ground. Robert beckons me closer again. He offers to take a few photographs of me so close to the animal that I’m totally awestruck.

Robert suddenly has a serious attitude again and I ask him why. He says he can hear two more elephants nearby. This one will probably join them on their journey to the water hole and other jeeps will find them. He seems saddened by this.  

He is right. We quietly follow the animal through a clearing and beyond the road two similar sized elephants graze on some bushes. A jeep pulls up and four large white humans climb down the vehicle’s ladder with a display of colourful shorts on large backsides. Our elephant, for the first time, looks slightly agitated and lumbers after its two friends. Two more jeeps, in a cacophony of noise, arrive too. Robert suggests we leave. Whatever he says; his promise to see elephants has been delightfully delivered.

Back up on the roof of the jeep, we rumble along the same park road as yesterday. At another the watering hole a jeep has stopped. We roll up quietly too. The new park hotel has recently been constructed on the hillside above us. I can’t see anything near the water so I’m not sure why we have stopped. Robert points to the murky water. I frown, obviously missing something. Then a trunk, followed by a large elephant head rises above the surface. The elephant unleashes an amusing spurt of water from its trunk as it showers itself. Robert now directs my attention to the other side of the pond. Another elephant has arrived and stands at the water’s edge. It dips its large feet in as if it’s testing the temperature of the water. An antelope watches from nearby.

Another jeep pulls up and its passengers climb down. The tranquillity is now shattered as they chatter animatedly with the group from the first jeep. Robert asks them to talk quietly, once politely and the second time much more firmly. They are annoyed with him and so they go. Robert suggests that we stay. Once the rabble leave, the second elephant wades into the water, spurting himself with water from his trunk, visibly enjoying his morning wash.

Typically we now drive for over an hour and see only antelopes. However, it doesn’t matter as it’s already been well worth the trip. Another lesson; don’t chase, if you are in the right place, things will come to you.

 

I find my guide for my short journey to nearby Mognori on the edge of the park. The heat of the day is up again. I’m already sweating. In the village, we pick up two men who jump into the back of the truck and we carry on until the road ends. I am given a tube of cream to coat myself in for protection from flies and mosquitoes.

The two men have uncovered a canoe from some bushes and I follow them to a narrow river of still black water. I sit in the middle of the boat as the two men, one sitting at the front and the other at the back, row us through the dense jungle. I’m thankful for the cream. The rower at the front constantly swats flies and grunts with every bite. My guide explains that these are tsetse flies. The poison of the tiny fly results in sleeping sickness and is so concentrated it affects elephants and other large mammals too. The flies were prevalent in the park and caused havoc, so vegetation has been established here along the river to attract them. He points out red and blue kingfishers. I am told that crocodiles are sleeping at the water’s edge. I am not sure I believe it.

 

Local villages around the national park are having to embrace tourism as their culture and economy previously based on hunting the animals and selling their tusks and hides is no longer permitted. Traditional dancing, roof walking and weaving are now demonstrated in these eco-villages. So, back in Mognori, I am lead up tree trunk ladders and on to the roofs of the mud huts. The insides are cool in the daytime, particularly ideal for storing food, and at night the roofs are cooler to sleep on, especially in the hotter months. The villagers have cut patterns into the wooden walls of their huts. This was originally as the means of announcing children’s births or other family events. Sadly the tradition is now dying out.

The village chief sits under a shea nut tree in the shade. He is weak and nearly blind but he still rules the village. To this day, the chiefs of the villages still use animal skins to indicate how they want to rule. The chief here currently has a lion skin to indicate strength. Other chiefs will use different skins to symbolise the characteristics they wish to portray.

The chief allows me to wander freely around the village. Goats find shade at the edges of the huts, a baby has been left sleeping under a tree and a few youths have been coerced by a woman into crushing yams to make fufu. The old woman barks instructions and in unison they bang large wooden poles into a wooden basket to crush the yams. I offer my help. The wooden beams are surprisingly heavy, which amuses the boys when I try.

The visit is done and I am driven back to the airport at Tamale. At the mention of the airport, my guide asks me about flying. He has never been on a plane. He wants to know if it’s just like being in a car. I try to explain it to him but it’s lost on him. It’s just like when I explained dishwashers and tumble dryers to the coach of the football academy I spent time with here in Ghana; these things I take for granted are alien here.

Tags: elephants, ghana, roof walking, safari, wildlife

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