A team of researchers from MRAC (Pascale Lahogue, head of the project, Belgium, and Imen Arfaoui Belgium/Tunisia), as well as cave experts from France (Josiane and Bernard Lips, bio- and speleological co-ordinators, Jean-Philippe Dégletagne) and Germany (Michael Laumanns) set off on 4th of July 2023 for a 3-weeks field-trip to Mbanza Ngungu. The team was excellently supported by geology students from the Republic of the Congo (“Congo Brazzaville”) (Nicy Bazebizonza) and from the DRC (Nadège Ngala Ntambwe and Junior Lutete Savu), who were responsible for the daily negotiations with the villagers and actively took part in the scientific work (water and geological sampling) as well as in the cave surveying. Josiane Lips and Jean-Philippe Degletagne also organized, as an additional matter of sustainability, an in-depth biospeleological training for biology students of the Institut Supérieur Pédagogique in Mbanza Ngungu.
Main target of the speleological fieldwork was the re-mapping of Grotte de Ngovo (east of Langa village), explored by Congo-based Belgium cave enthusiasts in the 1950ties, who produced an overview map of the cave, showing approximately 5,860 m of passages without details like cave content or cross-sections of the passages. The 2023 speleological team succeeded in mapping 4,984 m in Ngovo, only leaving a smaller section of the cave, which is more difficult to access, unsurveyed for the next field-trip. A nearby vertical cave, Kadia Pemba, was linked to Ngovo through a 35 m deep pitch.
A major surprise however, was Grotte Ngungi (west of Langa village), a complex sinkhole cave with an impressively steep entrance doline. The cave was not mentioned by previous explorers. Grotte Ngungi was mapped in 2023 to a length of 2.1 km. A very narrow meander provides access to a spacious and beautiful underground river passage (4-6 m wide, 5-8 m high), which can be easily traversed and develops straight towards Ngovo. The team ran out of time in wide open passage only 500 m from Ngovo. A connection of both caves is very much likely, which would establish one of the major cave systems of whole Africa.
The fellows (students) associated with the project are required to publish the scientific results, including cave surveys) in academic magazines as well as in their papers necessary to receive their academic degree (DEA or Ph.D). It is supposed that this will take considerable time.
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