Published: August 2008

Bioko Primates

Drill In Cage

Bioko Island Journal

Text and photograph by Joel Sartore

Joel Sartore, with three other National Geographic photographers and a crew of students and scientists, spent two weeks on this speck of land documenting the region's rich array of wildlife. Below are some of the notes Sartore took in Equatorial Guinea, including its capital city, Malabo—the center of a thriving bush-meat trade.

New Year's Day. KLM flight 42. Minneapolis to Amsterdam.
Currently somewhere over Greenland.

I've been dreading this day for two months. But then I dread leaving on any international assignment. Will I get sick, or hurt, or killed? More pressing, will I take good enough pictures to stay employed?

When I get to the airport, I feel like one of those cowboys you see on the back of a bull. Waiting for the gate to swing open, they clench their jaws and stare down at their hand, tied with a thick rope and now inseparable from the animal. They're all grimace–wound tight, fearful, worried, desperate. That's me.

But I always get on that plane and do what I'm asked to do. And then I'm home again, just a middle-aged father, thinking about that last adventure while taking out the trash on a cold Nebraska night. And usually I'm glad I went.

But this time, well, there's plenty to be nervous about.

My destination is the city of Malabo on Bioko Island. On a world map it's a speck of land off the west coast of Africa, part of Equatorial Guinea. Malabo's been called the Auschwitz of Africa for all the genocide that took place when the ruling tribe, ‘The Fang' took over in the mid-1970s—one-third of the population either fled or was killed. The place has never recovered.

Once there, I'll stay for a couple days in a tent on a soccer field that belongs to an oil company. They say they'll have food, drinking water, and guards to protect the gear—and us.

Three days from now a boat will haul me, three other NG photographers, and a crew of students and scientists to the far side of the island. They'll drop us off on a black sand beach at the base of a volcanic caldera, where the steep and rugged terrain has so far shielded most of the flora and some of the fauna from humanity. The goal is to photograph monkeys, some of the rarest in Africa. Easier said than done though. These primates have been hunted for years.

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