Rare | South Sudan

South Sudan: The bull and the Imatongs

Will Jones and Kyle de Nobrega recently guided clients to South Sudan, where they were all hosted by African Parks. A first for JbD, AP, and our clients, it was a wonderfully adventurous trip, one that involved in the trip funding a number of collars for scientific study, including the bull elephant featured below.  

On our last day in Boma, we rose early and watched the clouds as they spilled off the Ethiopian highlands to the east that was drawing the weather, and we slipped out between the gap in night and day to collar a bull elephant.

There aren’t many elephant in Boma. After years of persecution, they remain scattered and decimated, hiding in thicket by day and foraging out by night. We had one last collar left and it was for an elephant. We knew where they were because one of the other elephants was already collared, so we flew southwest over Kasengeru and across the thickets of the Boma Plains. The vet and tagging helicopter flew about five minutes ahead of us and was already, when we arrived, working the elephant herd out of the thicket. Eventually, the elephants were harried into the open, our helicopter being used to prevent them from rushing back in.A large bull was identified from the group and darted. In minutes he started to fall behind the running group. We watched as he slowed and circled and fell to the ground on his side. The helicopter landed and we went to work, assisting the vets with the collar, listening to the deep dark rumble of the beast as he lay oblivious to the work on him. It was a touching scene as the device was gently and swiftly fitted around his neck.

Just 20 minutes into the operation, we heard the screeching of some very distressed elephant nearby. Assuming they had fled into the forest, this caught us a little by surprise. We decided to move to the helicopters and we took off five minutes later, whereupon we watched the bull elephant come to, swing around as if to hit someone, and then dash into the forest. We said goodbye and headed southwest again to the Imatong Mountains, where we spent the night sleeping at a blissful 6,000 ft above the heat of the Boma Plains.

The Imatong Mountains are a remote isolated range that borders Uganda and overlooks the Kidepo Plains to the southeast. The mountains are covered in high-altitude mountain forest full of cycads and butterflies. We found some colobus families too. We flew up valleys that no doubt had rarely been explored before. We set camp in a small village amongst a grove of banana trees, which in turn sat on the saddle of a hill set between two giant peaks. Our landlords were an ancient pair whose son was blind drunk and attempted to bless us by spitting into a gourd and then spraying it on us. We spent a blissful night on the mountain, which for one of our guests reminded him of being a cub scout, and for another represented a first night ever in a tent. I couldn’t have felt prouder.

Speaking of sleep, it will interest the reader to note that I was in the snoring isolation ward, which to all intents and purposes appeared to be a chicken coup. We all slept well except poor Kyle who had a dodgy stomach and had to keep visiting the hole in the ground past the sleeping security guard engaged to watch the helicopter. I was pleased to hear the guard was snoring and not a peep from me.The next morning we took off in the high wind to explore the peaks, landed on a small promontory and had a glass of champagne to celebrate our extraordinary journey and luck. We then took off, dropped down off the Imatongs, and flew back into the Nile basin heat for Juba, where the journey was rounded off with a cold bottle of Nile Beer at the wonderful Apex River Club. Darn, it tasted good.

For more on arranging travel to South Sudan, please do get in touch with Will. He’d love to chat. 

All images © Kyle de Nobrega 

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