National Geographic : 2003 Sep
carving to and fro along a gently undulant approximation of the river's serpentine course. We gazed down at one set of minor chutes-a rocky cascade totaling 40 feet of vertical drop and soon afterward passed the invisible bound ary into Ivindo National Park. The next set of chutes appeared major even from our vantage circling above it. Abruptly, from a lip of quiet water screened by trees, the Djidji River drops nearly 200 feet, its volume split into five fingers that clench down over the rocky face like a grasping hand, each finger a frothy channel punctuated by ledge holes and rooster tails, plummeting to an explosion of foam at the bottom. After three circuits we con tinued upstream, where the river's surface again was as sleek as an ebony table. The chutes seem to mark an escarpment of some sort, above which the Djidji winds sedately across a flat, thickly forested plateau. All we could see beneath us, around us, to the horizon in every direction, was unbroken canopy in its thousand shades of green and, through it, a thin slash of black. Langoue Bai, the hidden clearing discovered by Fay, with its concentrations of elephants and gorillas, lay dozens of miles to the south. Lee 68 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * SEPTEMBER 2003 White himself had led the field team that hiked to that bai, after Fay had put it on the map, and established a continuous monitoring effort. But the approach to Langoue, via an old road and then three days of hard bushwhacking, is from another direction. White hadn't visited these mysterious precincts of the upper Djidji-flown over them, yes, but never gotten on the ground -and he shared my curiosity about what's down there. Early observations at Langoue, he told me, suggest that the elephants drawn to the bai (for succulent vegetation, water, salt, or whatever) make some sort of seasonal migration away. They disappear when the rains end. Where have they gone? Our guess, he said, is that they come here during dry season to the marshy, provident flatlands of the upper Djidji. It might be the last unprobed hideout of Gabon's biggest tuskers. But no one knows that for fact. The work of data gathering at Langoue Bai has barely begun, and the exploration of the surrounding water sheds, including the Djidji River above the chutes, is another urgently tantalizing task on a list of many. Ivindo National Park, like some of the others, is still a black box of uninvento ried treasures.