VWB/VSF Student Project: Ghana

Monday, May 31, 2010

Wachiau Hippo Sanctuary

We made plans to spend the weekend at the Wachiau Hippo Sanctuary. It is about an hour drive from Wa. Early Saturday morning we received a call from one of our contacts regarding some sick guinea fowl. So after driving out to the village and performing the necropsies we were ready to head out. We arrived in Wachiau at 2:30 pm. While we were registering with the tour guides in came a massive storm which grounded us for over an hour. We were then able to drive out to the sanctuary, another 30 min drive on bumpy roads. The sanctuary is a protected stretch of land spanning 40 km along the Black Volta River which runs through Ghana, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. A partnership with the Calgary Zoo accounts for most of the funding but the sanctuary itself is run by the local community. We unpacked our things while waiting to see if we could still go out on a river safari. Luckily the rain had stopped and the guides thought it to be a nice time to go out.

We set sail at 5 pm. Our vessel was a sturdy wooden canoe and our driver was a young deaf man whose ability to paddle for nearly 2 hours straight still amazes me. The scenery was breathtaking. Miles and miles of lush tropical bush with the sun touching down in the background. We paddled in complete silence, only hearing the gentle flow of the river and the symphony of wildlife surrounding us. We travelled for over an hour with no hippos in sight. We passed by local fisherman who kept saying the hippos were just a bit farther. Hippos are unsocial animals that try to escape noise and are said to be able to swim faster than a horse runs on land, explaining the nickname 'water horse.' Just as we thought we might need to turn back, with the sun nearly set and the rain gently falling, we saw in the distance what appeared to be a small school of hippos. What we first thought to be a group of rocks suddenly blew water into the air and made an impressive grunt which echoed through the bush. We had found them! A school of seven hippos. We paddled a little closer and set our boat along the banks. We were able to see them yawn and play and emerge from the water. They are giant and impressive animals, being the second largest land animal only behind the elephant. We sat for about 20 minutes, watching, in complete awe of their presence. It was amazing to see them in their natural habitat, completely undisturbed. After that we made our way back to the docking point. We paddled in complete darkness, with a sort of eerie tranquility.

We returned to camp and cooked our food over a small charcoal stove and were told local tales by our tour guide. It was a great experience and I hope to return before we leave. Next time we hope to sleep on the 'hippo hide', a tree fort that overlooks the river which unfortunately because of the weather was not an option this time. I took some great video which, due to the internet connection, will have to wait until august to be posted.

I am really starting to settle into the African lifestyle - I have made some great new friends, tried some exotic foods, chased lizards out of my room, and am riddled with bites from all sorts of insects. The time is rushing by and I can't wait to set out on another adventure soon.

All the best,


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