On Safari in Ghana


AS THE darkness and mist give way to the morning light, we slowly make our way over the 50 miles [80 km] of untarred road leading to Mole National Park in the Northern Region of Ghana. The surrounding landscape consists mainly of grass, bushes, and short trees. Occasionally, we pass a small village with huts made of clay and roofed with straw.

What a contrast when we reach Damongo, a bustling rural town with shops, tarred roads, and heavy traffic! Children dressed in beige and brown uniforms are on their way to school. Women in colorful clothes carry all kinds of loads on their heads—firewood, foodstuffs, and vessels full of water. Cars and tractors are honking, and bicyclists are passing. We have 14 miles [20 km] to go.

At Mole National Park

Finally we reach the park. According to our tour guide, Zechariah, the Mole Game Reserve was established in 1971 and covers an area of 1,870 square miles [4,840 sq km]. There have been 93 species of mammals, 9 species of amphibians, and 33 species of reptiles recorded in the park. These include lions, leopards, spotted hyenas, civet cats, elephants, bongos, dwarf forest buffalo, warthogs, waterbuck, duikers, genets, hartebeests, mongooses, baboons, various monkeys, roan antelope, porcupines, crocodiles, and snakes, including pythons. In addition, more than 300 species of birds have been seen here.

Slapping at hungry blackflies, we walk through the knee-high grass and soon come close to a herd of antelope. At first, it is difficult to see them, since their color blends in with their surroundings. While we are watching them, they are watching us just as intently, so that the distinction between tourist and attraction becomes blurred. As  we take pictures, we are startled by a loud snort to our right. Protesting our invasion of his privacy, a big male waterbuck runs off into the bush ahead.

Then we notice four huge elephants under a big tree. They pull branches down with their trunks and chomp the soft leaves. We move closer, and when we are just 30 feet [10 m] away, Zechariah encourages us to take pictures. He slaps the butt of his rifle, which produces a metallic sound that drives the elephants away from under the tree and gives us a chance to take even better pictures. Not far away, the elephants find a muddy spot and use it for bathing. Zechariah explains that the elephants’ color changes—from their natural black to red or brown—depending on the color of the mud they bathe in.

We walk a little farther and get a full view of the landscape of the park. Its vegetation includes beautiful acacia and shea trees. On our way back, we take the same path that the elephants have taken. They are still a number of feet away, but the biggest elephant of the group raises its ears,  gets into a fighting stance, and heads toward us. Is it going to attack?

Zechariah tells us not to worry, but at the same time, he takes his rifle off his shoulder and leads us away from the path that the elephants have chosen. We continue walking, the guide with his rifle—and we with our cameras—ready for use. Soon we are out of the elephants’ sight.

Zechariah explains that elephants in the park are used to humans and that some even come close. When the elephants are frequently seen, the guides start giving them names. One they called Knobby because it had a big knob on its skin. Another elephant they named Action because it used to frighten tourists.

Next, we encounter a number of baboons. We watch them swinging in the trees or running on the ground. Our guide calls our attention to a mother baboon carrying two babies, one at her back and the other at her breast. They are twins, he explains.

Truly, we have seen quite a bit of wildlife today. Zechariah tells us that to see wildlife during the dry season—between April and June—one only has to wait at the water holes because the animals will come in large droves for a drink. He also says that by driving into the park with a four-wheel-drive vehicle, one can observe many other animals, including buffalo and lions.

It is now time for lunch. While we are eating, a large baboon takes a position on the bed of a pickup parked next to our car and boldly focuses on my lunch. Other baboons pass by, along with some antelope and a warthog, and finally four elephants appear on top of a hill close by. Perhaps we have found an easy way to get these animals to pose for a picture!

At the Marketplace

The time we spend at Mole National Park is much too short, but we now take a two-hour drive across untarred roads to Sawla, a rural town inhabited by the Lobi, a tribe of farmers. The women of this tribe have the curious custom of artificially enlarging their  lips. Although nowadays the tradition is slowly dying out as young girls are influenced by modern civilization, many women are still proud of the size of their lips. Indeed, it is considered an insult to tell a Lobi woman that she has short lips like a man.

We arrive at a village and enter the market. The booths are made of tree branches and have thatched roofs. There is a white man standing in the market among all the black Africans. We approach him and discover that he recently came here to translate the Bible into the Lobi language. He lives in the next village right among the Lobi so that he can learn to speak their language fluently. I am reminded of Robert Moffat, who set up a mission among the Tswana-speaking people of southern Africa in the 19th century and translated the Bible into their language.

Sitting on a bench in one of the market booths is an old Lobi woman with enlarged lips. Two whitish wooden plates, each as big as a thumbnail, have been pushed into a hole in each of her lips. I would like to take a picture of her, but as soon as I lift my camera, she turns away. One of my companions explains that the old Lobi have a belief that their soul can be adversely affected when someone snaps a picture.

On our way back to Sawla, where we will stay for the night, I think about the wisdom and variety that we have seen in God’s creation. He designed both animals and humans masterfully. It is just as the psalmist exclaimed: “How many your works are, O Jehovah! All of them in wisdom you have made. The earth is full of your productions.”—Psalm 104:24.

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Spotted hyena

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A herd of antelope

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A mother baboon carrying two babies

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The marketplace