Banzena

We have been camped at Banzena for 3 nights now. It is an amazing place – a lake and vast marsh surrounded by harsh desert. To walk over a parched yellow sand dune and see for the first time the greens and blues of an improbable wetland is striking. Banzena is the quintessential desert oasis. Last years rains were very strong, so the lake contains more water than normal. Toureg nomads and their numerous livestock depend on this place; so do the elephants. The water sustains all life here and we are expecting the elephants to congregate as we enter the driest month of the year. But one night last week there was uncharacteristic and unexpected rainfall, which filled low-lying areas with water. As a result, the elephants have been able to browse at a greater distance from the lake. This morning I observed approximately 100 elephants moving along the scrub to the east of the lake. We have been observing elephants there since Monday and their numbers seem to be increasing. The outlying puddles are drying fast and we predict that the elephants will converge on the main Banzena marsh with in the week. Photographing the elephants here has been difficult thus far. Large groups with young calves are dangerous to approach and it is often not possible to approach the main group because doing so would require close proximity to individual males acting as scouts. I will work during the next few days to make overall pictures of the groups east of the marsh, but will wait until the elephants come to the water to make closer pictures. I am continuing to acclimate to this environment and am finally reaching a point where I can focus more clearly. I suffered mild heat exhaustion Monday and Tuesday after working through the mid-day hours, but have now adjusted my schedule to ease the burden of this place (which can still be quite heavy). Yesterday morning I had an acacia spine pierce the sole of my shoe and go one full inch into the ball of my right foot. It effectively pinned my shoe in place. Removing the shoe and the spine from my foot took considerable force, but the wound has healed rather nicely. I have been sleeping well lately, but last night the winds were blowing, turning the slow cooking of the night into convection baking. I have not taken any digital photos lately, but I will try to send a few to represent the area in the next week. Evening Update: This evening, I witnessed a phenomenal natural history event, unique to the world and perhaps the most spectacular I have ever seen, as more than 100 (and possibly 200) elephants crossed a grass clearing en route to the Banzena marsh. These numbers represent approximately half the known population for all of Mali (a country as big as Colorado and Texas combined), coming together here at a swamp in the desert. I could not approach as closely as I wouldI have liked for risk of endangering myself, and more importantly the other researchers. But I did make some strong images. I will try to put a digital sample on the site.View new photography at www.carltonward.com