Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Jungle adventures in Cameroon

A forest elephant taught us all a lesson

What do you do if you come across a gorilla in the jungle?

This was a question we have asked our guides many times. The answer? Bow down to show you mean no harm. A bit like greeting in Japan.

As a cameraman with CNN, I have filmed armed guerillas in their jungle hideout, but this is the first time I have attempted to film gorillas in their jungle habitat. I am in Cameroon filming with Richard Quest on an environmental story about deforestation and its impact on the wildlife, and the Pygmy tribes who live in the jungle.

We have been in the heart of the Congo Basin, one of the last refuges for the lowland gorilla, which is becoming increasingly endangered. We heard three gorillas giving warning calls on our drive in, and we hoped to be able to film one during our stay. After several guided treks though the jungle, we saw a chimpanzee and some monkeys, but not one of these huge beasts, which can be quite aggressive if taken by surprise and as strong as several men.

So what to do should a gorilla rush towards us beating its chest?

Our guides told us we should get down on the ground and let him know he is the boss -– or run!

All well and good, but what about getting the pictures? Would I be able to keep calm, and importantly, keep filming if a gorilla came running towards me? I like to think I would, but a forest elephant taught us all a lesson the other night. While filming with infrared camera equipment, the elephant turned and charged. I left the camera running and fled. Luckily the elephant stopped its charge right in front of the camera, saving the expensive equipment, and making a rather good sequence.

Unfortunately, in our escape the producer Deborah and I had a collision. She now has grazed knees and a black eye. A little frustrated, we had to leave without getting the gorilla pictures we so really wanted. Driving out on a jungle track, I saw something large and grey ahead. We stopped, and there enjoying the morning sun was a huge male silverback gorilla. I started filming and got a very good shot of him looking towards us, and then slowly walking into the forest. A truly magnificent sight. We got out of the jeep and bravely followed, remembering all the advice, but he had disappeared out of sight into the Cameroon rain forest.

From CNN cameraman Neil Bennett.
I can very much relate to your adventures, having spent 2 plus years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon. I was approached by an elephant with baby rounding a turn right into us but I kept shooting (photographing) and luckily for us it veered off into the forest. Also saw some chimpanzees and many other animals but never a gorilla. Good for you that you could shoot one.
How about a picture?
Was this the Reserve du Dja?
You must count your selves lucky... I am from Cameroon but I have never got an opportunity to see any of these magnificient animals...
will you be airing that video of that charging elephat?
Wow... so amazing.
show picture!!
Neil you need to precise that this wildlife hotspot is the Lobeke National Park (not Dja Reserve) in the South East of Cameroon.
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