Boucher’s Birding Blog: Mamba Meets Bushbaby

On the canopy walkway in Kakum National Park with local guide Kalu Afasi. Tim Boucher/TNC

On the canopy walkway in Kakum National Park with local guide Kalu Afasi. Tim Boucher/TNC

By Timothy Boucher, conservation geographer

Sometimes when you go birding, you can’t help but see other animals – elephants, army ants, beautiful butterflies.

Occasionally, if you get out early (as birders always do), you can get to a park before the crowds and you might see something really special (and, in this case, gruesome).

In January, we traveled to Ghana for some superb birding. Our visit included the famous canopy walkway at the Kakum National Park near the Ivory Coast. The seven bridges strung high up in the trees usually teem with visitors who have no appreciation of the amazing birdlife.

They might notice the monkeys, but for most, the canopy walkway is just a low-tech amusement ride. They shriek as they bounce from one platform to the next on the narrow, swaying  wooden planks.

We arrived very early, our guide having arranged for the park to admit us before the regular opening hour.  We were the first visitors on the path that climbs to the walkway.

It was barely light as we tramped up the steep hill, trying not to trip over hidden roots and rocks. As we reached a turn, we heard a ruckus near the trail – about head height — and we all peered into the tangle of vines and branches.  We had the surprise of our lives.

There, slithering down a vine, was a large western green mamba! Seeing a snake is a wonderful treat, something that doesn’t often happen, so I was excited to see it. While many snakes are dangerous (the mamba is deadly venomous), if you give them their space, they will leave you alone.

Many visitors see the canopy walkway as a low-tech amusement ride. But look closely, and wonders await: like this green mamba slithering past. Tim Boucher/TNC

Many visitors see the canopy walkway as a low-tech amusement ride. But look closely, and wonders await: like this green mamba slithering past. Tim Boucher/TNC

Watching the snake, we heard another noise nearby and saw rustling in the vines and branches. After peering around in the dawn light a little more, we found a Senegal bushbaby (Galago senegalensis)!

Wow! You never see these little primates during the day. Bushbabies are small primates found only in Africa. You most often see them around campsites in trees, with your flashlight reflecting off their huge eyes. You might hear their very loud cries at night. Now this was a real treat; something I had never seen in all my years in Africa.

A reward for getting up early: a surprise look at a Senegal bushbaby in daylight. Tim Boucher/TNC

A reward for getting up early: a surprise look at a Senegal bushbaby in daylight. Tim Boucher/TNC

Well, there was good reason we saw both the snake and bushbaby so close together. The snake was hunting. And it had found the bushbaby nest. A mad scramble ensued, and we watched as the bushbaby made a tragic choice, grabbed one small baby, and leapt away with the tiny naked baby in its mouth.

Trouble in the trees: the bushbaby flees with baby in its mouth. Tim Boucher/TNC

Trouble in the trees: the bushbaby flees with baby in its mouth. Tim Boucher/TNC

Sadly, for the bushbaby family, the snake quickly found the nest, and devoured the baby left behind. It was over very fast.

A death in the morning. Unnoticed by most, a careful look in this tangle reveals the mamba eating a baby bushbaby. Tim Boucher/TNC

A death in the morning. Unnoticed by most, a careful look in this tangle reveals the mamba eating a baby bushbaby. Tim Boucher/TNC

The bushbaby (probably the female, as they make the nest and raise the litter) left the area quickly, saving its one baby.  We were left breathless at this extraordinarily lucky encounter, and it while was tough to watch, it once again showed us that nature can be both beautiful and tragic.

Opinions expressed on Cool Green Science and in any corresponding comments are the personal opinions of the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Nature Conservancy.

Timothy Boucheris a senior conservation geographer at The Nature Conservancy, where his work ranges from complex spatial analyses to extensive field studies, focusing on ecosystem services and linkages between human well-being and conservation. He has worked on global to local issues, done fieldwork spanning six continents, assessed land use and habitat conditions, and participated in numerous field expeditions. He is also an avid birder and amateur photographer as well as a regular cycling commuter.




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