Despite the number of years living and working as a wildlife cameraman in Europe, Vianet D’jenguet always carried fond childhood memories of the Congo wherever he traveled. “My Congo” represents his first opportunity to film in his native country and he takes viewers to his favorite places to witness the diversity of wildlife, stunning landscapes, and friendly people.
♪♪ NARRATOR: Wildlife cameraman Vianet Djenguet was born and raised in the Republic of Congo until the age of 15.
Now he's returning to the country of his birth to take us on a journey of discovery into the wild rainforests of the Congo Basin.
[ Chimp cheeping ] DJENGUET: See, he likes me. He's responding.
I never realized a silverback can climb a tree that fast.
First time I've seen that in my life.
Obviously, I've got a big smile in there.
NARRATOR: What he finds is a world out of time.
DJENGUET: I think whoever wrote the 'Heart of Darkness' was wrong and this is definitely not the heart of darkness.
NARRATOR: There are revelations about his family.
♪♪ It's a glimpse of Eden and a long way home on a special journey with a native son.
♪♪ ♪♪ DJENGUET: I was born on the banks of the Congo River, a force of nature, the deepest river, and the second largest in the world.
♪♪ It cuts through a country I left many years ago.
♪♪ My name is Vianet Djenguet, and this a long-awaited homecoming for me.
My father was a doctor, a specialist in malaria.
When he was called to Paris to treat students and diplomats there, we moved to France.
I was just 15.
But the Congo has always been with me.
♪♪ And instead of a doctor like my father, I became a wildlife cameraman.
I have filmed in many places across Africa for the BBC, National Geographic, and others, but this is my first chance to film in my own country.
I want to share with you Congo.
Not the country of conflict headlines you might see in the news, but the joyous place of my boyhood, a thriving world full of color and natural beauty.
♪♪ [ Horns honking ] This is Brazzaville, the capital, where I was born.
The markets are a daily festival of sights and sounds.
♪♪ I love this place. it just smells nice -- Vegetables, fruits, champignons.
♪♪ It's a fresh fish from the Congo River.
♪♪ This is my home.
This is where I was born -- literally in the center of Brazzaville.
You know, five minutes east is the Congo River, and that way two minutes is my school -- my first-ever school.
And um, I had my chicken pen just down that far end, waking up by the sound of birds.
That tree out there, every morning, full of birds.
My mother is no longer with me, so coming back here, I'm flooded with voices and happy memories.
I'm so proud of my roots.
I want to show you everything, but my Congo is too big to see all at once.
So I've chosen some very special places to take you.
I want to show you the incredible wildlife, the amazing landscape, and the lovely people that live here.
♪♪ First, it's important to realize there are two Congos in Africa, two separate countries on either side of the great Congo River.
My Congo is the Republic, the smaller of the two, but still almost the size of California.
And like California, Congo has a beautiful but much smaller coast.
♪♪ This is Pointe-Noire, a place close to my heart.
It takes me right back to my childhood.
This is a place we used to come on holiday with my parents.
My dad looked forward to play Scrabble with my mom, but my mom wouldn't be interested, and she'd want to have her feet in the water and just walk along the beach, you know, Just contemplate.
And me and my brother would play football all together.
This place looks like a wild coast.
You know? But when you go into details, you realize that there are some great activities going on.
These crabs are searching the beach for things to eat -- tiny plants and animals that could have washed up here all the way from Brazil, which is over 3,000 miles away, with nothing but ocean in between.
Funny enough, those crabs, they look like children.
And they try not to get their feet wet, so they're running away from the waves.
♪♪ I can't believe the memories this beach has stirred up in me.
I guess childhood is something we never leave behind.
And that makes me think of some special youngsters not far from here that are trying to recover from a very difficult start.
I meet up with a friend of mine to show you what I mean.
Serge works at the famous chimpanzee sanctuary Tchimpounga, 27 square miles of forest and savanna -- the largest chimp sanctuary in all of Africa.
[ Chimps grunting ] It was created by the Jane Goodall Institute nearly 25 years ago.
[ Chimp grunting ] ♪♪ Killing chimpanzees for bush meat and capturing them for the pet trade has seen them suffer for many years and their numbers diminish.
But in the Congo, for those saved from this horrible trade, there is hope.
♪♪ [ Chimps grunting ] Serge is going to introduce me to the youngest members of the sanctuary.
These are 2, 3, and 6 -- very young and quite vulnerable.
But they are on the very first stage, so they kind of take them to the forest and just want to try and get them to get used to the wild environment again.
Some of them bear terrible scars from their past experience.
[ Chimp grunting ] [ Chimp whimpers ] Here, this little one will get a second chance to be a real chimpanzee.
So, I'm just going to go and catch up with those guys.
[ Chimp grunting ] It's great seeing the trust the young chimps have with Serge and his team.
Every day, they take them into the forest, to jump around and get a feel for what it's like in the wild.
♪♪ That is just, um -- Seeing that young chimp just breaks my heart to see his hand, you know, chopped off.
-It's really, uh, it's really sad.
It's really hard, huh?
[ Birds chirping ] Over the years, the sanctuary has looked after 160 chimps, and now 161.
The latest orphan arrived just a few weeks ago.
I think this is the foundation of rehabilitating those guys.
It starts here.
They need to get that sort of warmth from human and trust from human.
PATIENCE: [ Speaking French ] DJENGUET: His surrogate mother is a woman named Patience, and she couldn't possess a better quality.
PATIENCE: [ Speaking French ] DJENGUET: [ Chuckles ] Look at that. Look at that.
That's like my son.
[ Speaking French ] Up to now, humans have not been his friends, until he was rescued by the government and brought here to the sanctuary.
[ Conversation in French ] [ Birds chirping ] [ Whistling softly ] [ Chimp grunting ] He likes me. He's responding.
She tells me he's the first orphan in nearly three years, which is a good thing.
And it's not the only sign of hope.
♪♪ [ Boat engine whirring ] I am traveling to some very special islands.
♪♪ Tchimpounga is a big reserve, and there are three protected islands, each with its own troop of rescued chimps.
♪♪ The island forests are natural habitat.
But here, the team can still monitor how the chimps are doing.
If everything goes according to plan, this is the final stage before their return to the wild for real.
♪♪ This little guy was born on the island.
He's never been in captivity.
It's great because you can see he's learning from his real mother, like any wild baby chimp would do.
Oh. [ Chuckles ] Can you see that affection between the mother and the baby?
That's just so...sweet.
[ Chuckles ] Oh. [ Chuckles ] [ Chimp grunting ] The hope is to release this entire troop back to the wild.
I believe it will be the first complete troop of rescued chimps to be released, ever.
[ Chimp cheeping ] So, from what I can see now, it's moving forward so fast as per conservation.
And I really, really admire the people who are working here.
And they are taking their positive message to the next generation, as well.
[ Indistinct conversations ] -Bonjour, mes enfants. -CHILDREN: Bonjour, monsieur.
DJENGUET: [ Speaking French ] Thanks to the Jane Goodall Institute, children are getting to learn all about the animals that are threatened in the Congo.
TEACHER: [ Speaking French ] DJENGUET: Chimpanzees are still living wild here, and it's illegal to hunt them.
Protecting the chimps is a priority.
TEACHER: [ Speaking French ] [ Children singing in native language ] DJENGUET: This is really uplifting, you know?
Kids are really engaged and passionate, and they're excited about their environment and the wildlife.
And I think this is, you know, conservation, grass roots, which is really exciting.
[ Children continue singing ] I love spending time with the kids, and I can't resist a kickabout.
But I have more to show you, and we have a long way to go.
♪♪ It's time to head north to very different country.
♪♪ [ Engine revs ] Along the way, you can see how close to nature life is here.
The wild is all around.
Not far is Loango, the best place to see another Congo animal -- forest buffalo.
[ Forest buffalo grunts ] They're a small-scale version of a big African mammal, just half the size of their cousins the Cape buffalo.
But with those big, hairy ears, they are much cuter.
But don't be fooled.
Buffalo can be very dangerous, especially if they have calves with them.
The buffalo have constant companions.
Oxpecker birds help keep them free of parasites, while other birds forage in the mud they stir up.
The funny-looking hammerkop also loves the mud, eating small frogs and wetland creatures, sometimes alongside its large cousin, the woolly-necked stork.
There are more than 600 species of birds in the Congo.
No matter where you are in my country, birds will be with you.
[ Birds chirping ] ♪♪ I love this time, early in the morning, and it's quiet, not too hot, and you get to see loads of beautiful birds.
As a boy, even in the city, I remember waking up to the sound of birds in the trees outside our house.
There are huge palm-nut vultures... tiny swallows... kingfishers... seedcrackers... and woodpeckers.
There are funny little manakins and brilliant sunbirds.
[ Bird chirping ] ♪♪ Pin-tailed whydah birds are like little peacocks -- the males displaying with their long, fancy tails.
The females lay their eggs in other birds' nests.
They may be beautiful, but they are also naughty.
It's not only in birds that I see variety in the Congo.
Crossing the country, I see diversity in the people, too.
Our history is old and rich.
You can hear our many colorful cultures in our voices.
[ Laughter ] In the Congo today, French, along with two regional languages, are officially recognized, but at least 62 different languages are spoken throughout the country.
Diversity is all around us.
Halfway along our trip, we cross a very famous line.
We are in Makoua.
This is like bang in the middle of the Congo.
And I know this place doesn't look glamorous, but this is -- we're standing right now -- we're standing on the equator.
So, if you look that side, that's the Southern Hemisphere, and that's the Northern Hemisphere.
And it's hot here.
I like to think the Equator is not where the world divides into north and south, but where both halves come together.
And we are not far from our destination -- a place I have been so eager to show you... ...Odzala National Park.
♪♪ Here, the most beautiful natural savannas spill out of the dense tropical forests that stretch away to the north.
♪♪ All this lovely grass attracts my favorite animal... ...elephants -- but not just any kind.
These are Forest elephants.
They're supposed to live only in jungles, but they don't always do what they are told.
It's obviously a forest elephant, but being in a grassland, in a savanna type of landscape, makes it quite unique.
[ Chuckles ] The real surprise is they are more closely related to elephants of India than Africa.
And yet they are found only in the Congo basin.
They are slightly stocky, small, compared to their cousin, you know, savanna, elephant, which is quite great because their bodies adapted to the forest and stuff, which makes them so, you know, agile.
[ Elephant grunts ] They rarely grow taller than 8 feet, but like this adult bull, they have big tusks.
And it's those tusks that have put their population in so much danger -- sadly, making the forest elephants even more threatened than their bigger savanna cousins.
♪♪ Come towards me.
At least look at me. You know?
And say hi.
Oh, just lovely.
♪♪ Home to a quarter of the world's population, the Congo is an important stronghold -- maybe the strongest.
It is the best place in the world to see wild forest elephants.
I hope it is not the last.
And at least, here, I'm proud to say, they are protected.
♪♪ So many elephants. [ Sighs ] The actual population is growing.
It's quite -- I would say it's thriving, actually, because not only the big ones I've seen but the baby ones, as well.
And I love elephants. You know?
They are the emblem of this country.
They represent this country.
[ Chuckles ] I'm grateful to the elephants for coming out of the forest and allowing us to see them.
But for another forest creature, it's more a game of hide-and-seek.
Rock, a local ranger in Odzala National Park, has a trick that will help me film them.
ROCK: [ Whistling ] DJENGUET: Rock is just making the crowned eagle call, and apparently that attracts colobus monkeys.
ROCK: [ Continues whistling ] DJENGUET: I am not sure why, because the eagle will hunt baby monkeys.
But I suppose the colobus like to know where they are so they don't get a nasty surprise.
[ Monkeys grunting ] ROCK: [ Continues whistling ] DJENGUET: I can see one, actually.
[ Speaking indistinctly ] [ Monkeys grunting ] This is unbelievable.
I was being quite cynical about this, but it worked.
[ Chuckles ] ROCK: [ Continues whistling ] DJENGUET: My Uncle used to have a pet monkey called Kiki.
I was fascinated with him as a child.
I guess that's why I like them so much now.
Colobus are big monkeys and live in family groups high up in the trees.
One big male with some wives and babies.
Most monkeys love fruits.
Colobus, however, eat lots of leaves.
They have stomachs like cows.
And when they're full, and they need to let all that food digest, they sleep.
Sound asleep in the branches -- that takes proper forest skills.
♪♪ We leave the monkeys to their afternoon nap and find another of my favorite creatures -- weaver birds.
[ Bird chattering ] The Republic of Congo has 16 different kinds, including the black weaver, with his golden eyes... ...the village weavers -- so named because they always nest together near people... and then there is the orange weaverbird.
♪♪ I just love the fact that, you know, they're always busy and quite cheeky.
They steal off each other.
The males do a funny, flapping wing display underneath their hard work, to try and attract a female.
She will then decide if the nest is good enough for her to lay her eggs in.
♪♪ It seems, not this time.
At the end of the day, it's time to get on the road again.
♪♪ Just northeast of Odzala Park is the land of my ancestors and my father's hometown... Ouésso -- a place I visited when I was very young.
Apparently, this is where I took my first steps.
♪♪ And just beyond the town, the wild equatorial rainforest begins.
This is what the Congo is famous for.
[ Birds chattering ] A long time ago, the Bantu tribe conquered this land.
My great-grandfather, Sokondi, a Bantu warrior himself, lived here 100 years ago.
But the descendants of the clan they defeated are still in this jungle -- some of the last true forest people.
[ Birds chirping ] [ Drumbeats in distance ] I hear some drumbeats right there.
I think we made it.
[ Drumming continues ] It's been eight hours of hiking, and my apprehension for our welcome has grown.
Africa has a bad history in its treatment of indigenous people.
[ Drumming continues ] But I am in for a surprise.
[ People speaking native language ] [ Conversation in native language ] BASELADINI: [ Speaking native language ] DJENGUET: So, he say his name is Baseladini.
He's the chief and then he is greeting us.
You know, he's welcoming us here.
BASELADINI: [ Speaking native language ] DJENGUET: They have all gathered to greet us.
BASELADINI: [ Speaking native language ] DJENGUET: And he tells me about my family.
[ Chuckling ] So, he just said, basically, 'This land here is the Sokondi land -- your great-grandad's land.
And since he's gone, we always wanted to keep our tradition alive.'
Sokondi, my great-grandad -- he wanted to protect those guys, have them as family members.
You know? And I am extremely proud of my, you know, my bloodline, my great-grandad.
BASELADINI: [ Speaking native language ] DJENGUET: [ Chuckles ] He just basically said he's extremely excited and extremely honored that I'm here to visit them and that they're going to put on music of welcome for me.
[ People singing and drumming ] I can't help but get carried away.
At first, I wasn't quite sure whether I should join in, because, obviously I'm not very good at dancing.
But then, when the energy just kicked off, I thought, 'I'll take this moment.
It's now or never.'
And I just went and just danced.
And I feel so great about it! You know?
Especially, I feel so great about it.
I know my daughter always laugh at me when I'm dancing, but this time, she's going to be wrong.
[ Chuckles ] [ Music continues ] We have formed a real connection, and in the morning, they invite me on a hunt.
It's a rare privilege.
♪♪ The forest people hunt with many different traditional techniques.
One way is using nets.. like fishing on land.
♪♪ In the hunting party, there are lots of different jobs.
And everyone seems to know what to do.
There are path makers... net fixers... and beaters.
It's amazingly organized.
But if they want to eat, this is what it takes.
[ Men shouting in native language ] The reason why they're making all the noise is to scare the animals from their perspectives so they will be running towards the nets.
And once they get here, they stand ready to catch it.
[ Shouting continues ] They have to work as a team and stay focused.
But at 104 degrees and 100% humidity, it's exhausting.
They have seen something else just running through.
It is going that way.
[ Shouting continues ] These people get everything they need from the forest -- food, shelter, medicine -- everything.
In my short time here, I've learned a lot about these people and discovered that my own great-grandfather was a hero.
Forest people were usually enslaved by those who took over their land.
But my great-grandfather rejected this terrible practice.
Here, these people have always been free.
I was so worried about meeting them, and now it's so moving to learn they remember my great-grandfather with such esteem.
BASELADINI: [ Speaking native language ] DJENGUET: The Republic of Congo was the first country in Africa to give the indigenous people legal rights.
And I am so proud to think that my ancestors maybe had a part to play.
I wanted to meet the forest people and see their traditional way of life.
I wasn't expecting to learn that I have such a legacy here to live up to.
[ Conversation in native language ] We still have more to see, and where we are heading next is even deeper in this vast equatorial jungle.
♪♪ The Congo rainforest cover 700,000 square miles, across six countries.
It's larger than the entire state of Alaska, and much of it remains unspoiled.
We still don't know how many species are living here, but we are looking for just one.
These creatures are not human, yet they are perhaps our most famous relatives.
[ Water splashes ] Meeting them is worth another difficult jungle trek.
Finding gorillas, [Chuckles] you're going to be a little bit adventurous.
[ Animals chattering ] The trackers have just located where the gorillas are, so that's why no time to waste.
We need to get there as soon as possible.
[ Indistinct conversation ] But, thankfully, the family of gorillas we are looking for have been followed for more than 10 years.
[ Gorilla roars ] ♪♪ And suddenly, they are walking along with us through the forest.
I feel so lucky!
We are in the best place to see western lowland gorillas in the wild, anywhere on earth.
♪♪ It's really easy to see the gorillas close.
But one thing is, to film them, is a different story.
♪♪ I wear this mask because gorillas are so like us that they can catch the same diseases.
And we don't want that.
♪♪ They're going deeper and deeper in the foliage.
And then, there he is... the silverback.
[ Gorilla grunts ] Even though I know he is used to people, it doesn't mean he's not intimidating.
I just got close to the ebobo.
'Ebobo' mean 'gorilla' in the local language.
[ Gorilla grunting ] I know he's a gentle vegetarian, but my heart is racing to be so close to him.
He is huge.
He's really close.
[ Gorilla grunts ] His name is Buka.
And though he pretends to ignore us, he is actually keeping a very close eye on us to protect his family.
I can't get over how big he is.
His hand, if you look at it close, it's like three times my hand.
And his arm is like that.
I've got a big arm, but his is four -- four times my arm.
[ Gorilla grunting ] These guys are unusual for gorillas, in that they spend a lot of time up in the trees, looking for fruits.
And climbing is not just for youngsters.
I never realized a silverback can climb a tree that fast.
First time I've seen that in my life.
Obviously, I've got a big smile in there.
♪♪ No film can compare with a real personal experience, and the great thing is you, too, can come to see these gorillas.
My guides also bring tourists here to Mondika.
♪♪ I've had a glorious time.
Now the gorillas have all gone, and it's time for us to go, as well.
We are heading to our final destination, and instead of a hard trek through the jungle, I think we've earned an easier route.
[ Birds chirping ] The rivers here are natural roads -- open highways through the rainforest.
And all the architecture in this jungle is alive.
It's just so peaceful here.
I can spend the entire day just floating on this river.
Just sit, and admire beautiful trees and the dappled lights.
MAN: [ Singing softly in native language ] DJENGUET: It's such an old world, yet it feels always young, like it's born anew each morning.
I think whoever wrote the 'Heart of Darkness' was wrong, and this is definitely not the heart of darkness.
This is lush...pure.
I don't know if you can say this in English, but it's, you know, gorgeously gorgeous.
It's just amazing. You know?
MAN: [ Continues singing in native language ] DJENGUET: I'm so excited for what I'm going to show you.
A remote and wild place deep in the heart of Nouabalé-Ndoki -- for me, our most iconic national park.
[ Instrumental music plays ] [ Music ends ] [ Birds chirping ] Misty morning.
I love the mist.
I'm just going to set up my hide on the platform and see what comes along.
This is it -- Mbeli Bai, the wildlife jewel in my country's crown.
If you come to just one place in the Republic of Congo, make it here.
It is the best place to see wildlife in the whole of Africa, I think.
Soon, the performance will begin, and I have the best seat in the house.
♪♪ The first animals to appear are forest elephants.
They are famous here and guaranteed.
A bai is a big natural clearing, an island in the sea of trees.
Mbeli Bai is more special than most.
It has a secret in the water -- minerals which the elephants love.
They stick their whole heads underwater to dig the minerals up from the bottom.
For the past 20 years, these elephants have been part of an ongoing study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, identifying some 500 individuals by their distinctive ears and scars.
Some are easier than others to spot.
This big bull elephant has got a hole on his trunk.
I don't know why, but you can notice that because when he's blowing water, there's water also popping out of that little hole.
It's likely a battle wound from another bull.
That will give him a special scar.
[ Elephant grunting ] ♪♪ [ Elephant trumpets ] Joining the elephants are sitatunga, delicate swamp antelopes, with hooves that splay out so they can run across the marshy ground.
The big male sitatungas are darker than the females and have impressive antlers.
♪♪ Forest buffalo have come out to graze, and I catch a glimpse of the rare slender-snouted crocodile.
My favorite bit about this place is the diversity of it.
You know? It is such a busy place.
You know, and busy bai.
And as the heat goes out of the day, the last stars to arrive on the stage emerge... [ Gorilla grunts ] ...western lowland gorillas.
Now our cast of characters is complete.
♪♪ Several families feed here on the stems of the reeds.
Who knows how long they've been coming to Mbeli Bai... ...how many generations have lived in this forest, oblivious to our presence?
♪♪ I love the fact that the youngsters don't want to get their feet wet, and so spend their time sitting on their own platform -- in this case, their mother.
I feel like I'm witnessing paradise on Earth, just seeing these glorious animals -- you know, seeing elephants and gorilla sharing the same environments. You know?
The fact that, if I look, you know, left, I've got elephants wading, digging into the water holes.
And to the right, there will be a fish eagle flying, and I will see sitatungas and stuff.
It's just beautiful and diverse. You know?
Seeing that in one day, it's -- you know, I wasn't -- I wasn't prepared for that, but it's just incredible.
[ Birds squawking ] [ Thunder rumbling ] [ Rain pouring ] And no day at Mbeli Bai is complete without some rain.
After all, we are in one of the greatest rainforests on earth.
[ Elephant grunts ] [ Gorilla grunting ] ♪♪ This journey was meant to show you the country of my childhood and of my people.
It is almost like we've been visiting an earlier time in the history of the world.
That powerful, original world is all still here in the Congo, in our time.
[ Buffalo grunts ] For me, it's been like meeting an old friend after a long time apart.
♪♪ [ Laughter ] 'Connect with the spirit of your ancestors,' the old chief told me.
They are everywhere, helping me remember who I am and why I became a wildlife cameraman in the first place.
♪♪ I didn't expect this trip to change me, but it has.
I feel like I'm really back home... to my Congo.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪