For more photos from Bangui and Dzanga Sanga, visit www.jameshopkirk.com
Dzanga Bai is a huge clearing in the middle of the jungle in the Central African Republic, where herds of up to 200 forest elephants congregate to suck up mineral deposits. This pocket of protected forest is part of the Dzanga Sangha reserve in the remote south-western tip of the country. This large (but shrinking) tract of virgin rainforest houses an extraordinary array of indigenous wildlife, including elephants and western lowland gorillas.
Mayele, the dominant male silverback of the Mongambe group, Dzanga Sangha. These western lowland gorillas have been habituated over the last eight years or so, which is about how long it takes for a group to feel comfortable in the presence of humans.
Western lowland gorillas live in dense forest and are tough to photograph. Two years ago I photographed the group at Mondika in the Congo and faced similar challenges: very low light and thick foliage. You can be five metres from a large gorilla and yet have no shot because the undergrowth is so dense. Most of these photos are shot at 3200 ISO, 1/80th shooting handheld with a 400mm lens (at f4) - made possible by Image Stabilisation and the 5D MkII’s low-light performance.
Agile Mangabey monkeys, Dzanga Sangha - about an hour from Bai Hokou, deep in the rainforest.
These monkeys normally live in groups of 20 or so, but at Bai Hokou there is a habituated group of around 200 individuals.
With the Ba’Aka, a few miles south of Bayanga, Dzanga Sangha. The nets you can see here are used for hunting. Women take part in the hunt alongside the men.
One of the Ba’Aka women fixing the nets during the hunt.
The principle of net hunting is that instead of hunting silently, the Ba’Aka make a huge racket in the jungle - singing and shouting. Because there are so many of them, spread out, the animals hide and wait, trying to work out where to run to. The pygmies then lay their nets and beat the bush until the animals run into the nets. The outcome was brutal.
Dinner of duiker and manioc in the Ba’Aka village, south of Bayanga in the Central African Republic.
Pirogue at dusk, the Sangha River, Central African Republic - seen from the terrace at Doli Lodge, just outside Bayanga.