A Pocket of Paradise

By Awake! writer in Côte d’Ivoire

WOULD you like to go back in time and visit the earth’s primeval forests, thick with vegetation and teeming with wildlife? Do such places still exist? One seemingly untouched pocket of paradise is the Taï National Park, located in the southwest corner of Côte d’Ivoire, near the Liberian border.

Taï National Park is the largest remaining portion of the virgin tropical rain forest that once stretched across present-day Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The park includes more than half the existing rain forest in West Africa. Thanks to protective and innovative measures taken since 1926, this biological gem has been preserved. Come with us as we take a closer look at the rich diversity found in this park.

The Diverse Rain Forest

As we walk in the forest, to the accompaniment of a chorus of birdsong and monkey calls, we gaze in awe at the ancient trees with massive trunks towering up to 200 feet [60 m] above us. Our guide tells us that more than half of the 1,300 plant species in this 1,400 square miles [3,500 sq km] of park are exclusive to this region of West Africa.

The vegetation here is luxuriant and highly diversified. Many species of timber trees grow in the dense forest, notably mahogany, ebony, dabéma, and makore. We have to take giant steps over tree roots, as some of them protrude three feet [a meter] from the forest floor and spread out for 50 feet [15 m]. Animals sometimes seek refuge among these root systems to evade predators or to find protection during rainstorms.

The upper tree branches form a continuous canopy, thus keeping light from reaching the forest floor and hindering the growth of smaller plants. However, hanging lianas​—woody vines—​and epiphytes grow here. Some vines climb the trees for support, entwine them, and at times even strangle them. Our guide shows us a strangler fig tightly encircling  an immense tree trunk. In time, the host tree will yield to the fig and die.

Taï Park is a rich source of medicine and food. Our guide tells us that the Kru tribe uses the bark of the fever tree to treat malaria. The fruit of another tree contains a protein that is thousands of times sweeter than table sugar.

Teeming With Wildlife

Suddenly we hear the leaves rustling high above us. The sound is caused by a large band of noisy Diana and mona monkeys. They are screeching out their alarm calls and leaping from branch to branch. A mona monkey, with its comical white-streaked face, watches us as intently as we watch it! Monkeys, chimpanzees, and birds thrive on the many fruits and nuts available in the tree canopy. One can often observe monkeys and birds noisily feeding from the same fruit tree.

There are 50 species of mammals found in Taï Park, and many of them are common to this region. Buffalo and forest elephants live here, as do bongos, bush pigs, duikers, giant forest hogs, leopards, and pygmy hippopotamuses. Among the smaller animal residents are the civet cat, the golden cat, the forest genet, the mongoose, the pangolin, and the nocturnal galago.

Our guide identifies many animal tracks, such as those of the duiker, a small antelope. In the forest there are seven species of  duikers, including the rare Jentink’s, zebra, and Ogilby’s duikers. We see tracks where giant forest hogs have foraged for roots, and we inspect the habitat of the scaly, giant pangolin, an ant and termite eater. A pair had dug themselves a large hole in the forest floor with two chambers. These underground chambers are up to 130 feet [40 m] long and 15 feet [5 m] deep. The pangolin feeds at night, roaming many miles and then returning home just before dawn. It rips open termite nests with its rakelike claws and uses its sticky tongue to extract the insects.

Our guide locates a band of chimpanzees that range in this eight-square-mile [20 sq km] area. There are more than 2,000 chimpanzees in the park. We had heard that they use stones or branches that they carry with them to crack nuts. We are thrilled when we spot a chimp sitting on the forest floor about 20 feet [5 m] from us, banging away at a nutshell with a branch.

A Bird Watcher’s Delight

The next day we travel by canoe on the Hana River. As our guides quietly paddle, they identify the many bird species that we encounter. We hear the black-casqued hornbill, noted for its piercing call and for the noise its wings produce in flight. Seven of the many species of hornbill live in Taï Park. In all, there are more than 200 bird species found here. These include six species of kingfisher, along with falcons, touracos, parrots, pigeons, doves, francolins, sunbirds, and flycatchers. The rare and richly colored narina trogon has  also been spotted here. The male boasts iridescent-green wings, a red breast, and white tail feathers. We see many strikingly colorful birds, such as the blue plantain eater, the green fruit pigeon, the gray parrot, the blue-breasted kingfisher, and the hadedah ibis, with its metallic-green plumage. Taï Park is a bird watcher’s paradise!

On the riverbank are more animal tracks, including those of the pygmy hippopotamus​—a miniature version of the common hippopotamus. This animal is about the size of a large pig. The pygmy hippopotamus spends less time in the water than its larger cousin and never travels in a herd. It can be found only in West Africa. We also sight a Nile monitor lizard, which is a large dappled lizard similar to a crocodile but much smaller. There are 3 species of crocodiles found here along with 34 species of snakes, many varieties of lizards, and a vibrant insect population​—all flourishing in the forest. Many of the insects have yet to be identified.

Sadly, the rain forests of our planet are disappearing at an alarming rate. The major threats are the expansion of agricultural lands and the timber industry. It is comforting to know that the future of our earth is in the capable hands of the Creator himself.​—Psalm 96:12, 13.

[Maps on page 14]

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Sierra Leone

Liberia

Côte d’Ivoire

Taï National Park

Ghana

[Picture on page 15]

Protruding tree roots

Mahogany

[Picture on page 15]

Elephant calf

[Picture on page 15]

African golden cat

[Picture on page 15]

Bay duiker

[Picture on page 15]

Zebra duiker

[Picture on page 15]

African buffalo

[Picture on page 16]

Narina trogon

[Picture on page 16]

West African river eagle

[Picture on page 16]

Blue plantain eaters

[Picture on page 16]

Hadedah ibis

[Picture on page 16]

Blue-breasted kingfisher

[Picture on page 16]

Long-tailed pangolin

[Picture on page 16]

Pygmy hippopotamus

[Picture on page 16]

Tree frog

[Picture on page 16]

Nile monitor lizard

[Picture on page 16]

Dark mongoose

[Picture on page 17]

Mona monkey

[Picture on page 17]

Western red colobus

[Picture on page 17]

Chimpanzee

[Picture on page 17]

Lesser white-nosed monkey

[Picture on page 17]

Leopard

[Picture on page 17]

Bush pig

[Picture on page 16, 17]

African civet

[Picture Credit Line on page 14]

Parc National de Taï

[Picture Credit Lines on page 15]

Golden cat: © Art Wolfe/Photo Researchers, Inc.; all other photos except elephant: Parc National de Taï

[Picture Credit Lines on page 16]

Ibis: © Joe McDonald/Visuals Unlimited; kingfisher: Keith Warmington; hippo: © NHPA/Anthony Bannister; narina trogon: © P&H Harris; all other photos: Parc National de Taï

[Picture Credit Lines on page 17]

Pig: © Ken Lucas/Visuals Unlimited; all other photos except chimp and leopard: Parc National de Taï