Exploring northern Ghana – Part 2: Mole National Park
I visited Mole National Park with the International Service volunteers at TradeAID, and their counterparts based in Sandema and Tamale. To break up the journey we spent a night in Tamale with the group there. Tamale is the capital of the Northern region, a three hour drive from Bolga and on the way to Mole.
We were fortunate to be able to hire the driver and minibus of the NGO the Tamale group are working for, which meant travelling in relative luxury, not having to rely on the, at times, unreliable and slow public transport to the park.
Mole is located approximately 140km west of Tamale. For part of the way the road is tarmaced and in good condition, however nearer the park the road is under construction. The ground has been levelled and compacted but not yet tarmaced which makes for a very bumpy and dusty ride. We passed Chinese machinery and supervisors with Ghanaian labourers presumably completing the tarmacing of the road all the way to Mole. As the park is very undeveloped in terms of tourism infrastructure, it would be nice to hope that a decent road could be the first step to establishing Mole as a significant tourist destination and revenue earner.
We arrived in time for the 3pm safari. You can choose to go by jeep or on foot, I elected to go by foot, to be able to see the birds which would be scared away by the jeeps, and for the potential thrill of walking near elephants. Sean from the Bolga group of IS volunteers and I set off with our guide Osman down the hill from the lodge towards a watering hole just below.
We soon saw monkeys running around ahead of us, some warthogs with their young and then antelope, and crocodiles basking in the sun at the edge of the water.
We walked on and our very informative guide pointed out a number of birds, which were his speciality and also told us about the medicinal uses of the plants and trees, which was fascinating.
We came across some elephant footprints, and then some fresh dung and Osman set off at a quickened pace in the direction he believed they’d gone, and I dared to raise my hopes that we would see elephants. As we came out onto a road, there was a solitary male elephant grazing from a tree just a few metres in front of us. It was amazing to find myself standing so close to such a spectacular wild animal and I felt very lucky to be watching him in his natural habitat.
Osman told us he wasn’t worried by our proximity – apparently you can tell by their tail, if they curve it upwards it means they’re uncomfortable. He told us that as they had never been threatened by humans they had no fear of them, and that they had learnt the scents of the guides and so recognised him. Eventually he had enough of munching on the tree, or enough of us and wandered off.
We walked a bit further on to where Osman thought the elephant we’d seen might be joining others and came across a group feeding on some trees. We stayed at a distance to allow them to feed undisturbed, I could have watched them all evening! But eventually they wandered off too.
Feeling very honoured and happy to have encountered the elephants, we walked back to the lodge.
That night we slept in the Treehouse as the accommodation had been fully booked. We had to drive 10 minutes away from the lodge into the savannah, thankfully with a ranger with a shotgun 🙂 He told us that in the night we would hear hyenas and baboons. It was not the most comfortable night’s sleep, on a thin bit of foam, in the cold which we had not prepared for.. and we certainly heard a number of strange animal noises, but it was an experience to remember!
In the morning a second guide came to meet us and in two groups we went on a walking safari. We were lucky enough to come across elephants again, however this time it seemed the one we met was not comfortable with our presence as he moved away from us. The guide led us closer and again the elephant moved away, which made me think it didn’t seem fair to pursue him. We spotted a pair of elephants and moved towards them, but without realising it, we had moved closer to the first elephant. He clearly was not happy about this because he turned and started walking towards us, which was a bit unnerving.. Then he started running towards us, trumpeting with his huge ears flared out, and that was terrifying! The guide was a little way away from us and deliberately moved towards the elephant which distracted the elephant away from us and towards himself. The guide then banged a stick which made the elephant stop, trumpet one last time and then back off and walk away. We stayed cowering in a huddle with our hearts racing whilst the guide sauntered over and casually told us that it was just a “mock charge” and that we hadn’t been in danger. Although I believed him I also thought that unfortunately we had provoked this behaviour, and upsetting us and the elephant could have been avoided…
We continued our walk, in the opposite direction that the elephant had taken. We followed a trail of elephant footprints through the mud which made for difficult walking and felt a bit “Jurassic Park”!
Later we arrived at a watering hold where a group of elephants were having their morning drink and bathe. The scene was very tranquil compared to our last sighting and we were happy to sit down, catch our breath and enjoy watching the elephants moving sedately in and around the water.