I visited Gabon for the first time in 2008. By then it was an unknown country despite several National Geographic magazines dedicated to Michael Fay’s mythical mega-transect. I explored with my partner in Cameroon Ivindo National Park and Libreville… In just 8 days I knew that Gabon would be part of my life. A year later in 2009 we opened a DMC office with a local partner and since then we have been offering nature and culture trips all throughout Gabon.
Gabon ranks amongst the highest wildlife density holding countries in the World. Planning your trip to Gabon means discovering some of the best jungle protected areas in Africa. In total, there are 13 national parks in Gabon, but not all the parks are easy to access. In Last Places we can organize travel expeditions to all of Gabon’s parks, but we propose Loango National Park, Lopé National Park, Ivindo National Park, and Pongara National Park as the best ones to observe fauna and enjoy. The National Geographic naturalist Mike Fay has referred to Loango National Park, as ‘Africa’s Last Eden’. This is also where the photographer and conservationist Nick Nichols from National Geographic took his famous pictures of surfing hippos and elephants on the beach. The park’s 1.550 km of savannah, pristine beach, forest and mangroves are a must-see in Gabon. Loango National Park offers breathtaking panoramas and the unique opportunity to observe forest elephants, buffalos, hippos, gorillas and leopards venturing onto the white sand beaches. During your safaris in Loango National Park you have a chance to see the little-known African jungle fauna. From mid-July to mid-September, humpback whales visit the waters in front of Loango National Park as they migrate from their low-latitude summer feeding grounds to more tropical mating and calving areas. Pongara National Park is situated in 2 hours south of Libreville, and it is the easiest park to visit. The observation of big mammals cannot be assured but most of our clients have observed forest elephants and chimpanzees. We organize boat trips to Nyonie base camp on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. From Nyonie jungle and savannah safaris can be organized. Lopé National Park is Gabon’s most visited and famous park. The international reputation of the Lopé stems from the scientific research done on gorillas and chimpanzees. In October 2001, the Mikongo camp opened to develop international tourism aimed at the observation of gorillas in the forest. A remote nature travel destination in Gabon is Ivindo National Park. The main attraction of Ivindo is Langoué Bai, a natural clearing in the middle of the jungle where gorillas, bongo antelopes, and forest elephants can be observed. Arrangements to get to Langoué Bai must be made well in advance since there is limited access to that part of Ivindo National Park.
Together with the natural areas, travelling to Gabon offer you the possibility of discovering interesting colonial towns such as Lambarene where you can visit the Albert Schweitzer Hospital, situated on the bank of the Ogooue River and founded by Dr. Schweitzer in 1913. Lambarene is surrounded by magnificent natural lakes that can be explored by boat. In cultural terms Gabon is rich in rituals such as the Bwiti practiced by Bantu and Babongo Pygmy peoples. Bwiti use the hallucinogenic rootbark of the Iboga plant, to induce a spiritual enlightenment, stabilize community and family structure, and meet religious requirements and to solve problems of a spiritual and/or medical nature.
Also known as Bongo or Mbenga.
Population & Ecosystem
12.000 Babongo live in the forested area in Central Gabon. We find groups in Lope (Ogooué-Lolo), in Bakouyi (Mulundu) and in Koulamoutou, Pana and lboundji. Another major group of Babongo Pygmies is found between Akoula and Ngounié (Haut-Ogooué).
Economy & Society
The Babongo have recently changed from being nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled villagers with subsistence agriculture supplemented by hunting. In the early 20th century they were fully nomadic and physically distinct from their Bantu neighbours, but by the mid-20th century they were starting to settle and to become physically indistinguishable. They have radio but not television in their small village communities and the few metal implements they possess come from the outside world.
Culture & Religion
The Babongo pygmies are the originators of the Bwiti religion and the use of iboga, said to have been discovered a thousand years ago. The Fang and Mitsogo peoples are also Bwiti practitioners. Although Christianity, one of the larger religions of the region, has been incorporated into Bwiti by some practitioners, a large part of the Bwiti do not follow this syncretic Bwiti trend. To this day there are still Catholic missionaries who are against Bwiti and its widespread practice throughout Gabon, but the president himself is a Bwiti initiate and iboga is recognized as a cultural heritage that is illegal to export without a permit.
In the Bwiti there are different types of rites depending on the ethnic group. The ceremonies are always led by a healer called N’ganga who is the spiritual leader of the community. Men’s rituals are led by a male N’ganga and women’s rituals by a female. There are separate temples (resembling small wooden huts) for men and women and the instruments used are also different; the main instrument being an 8-string Ngombi harp for women and Mongongo mouth-bow for men. Lots of percussion, hand clapping, and singing accompanies the ritual which has been said to help induce trance states. The temple has benches on the sides where members of the community, musicians from other villages, children, elders and healers sit whilst accompanying the rite of passage or healing process that takes 3-5 days in the case of men, and up to weeks for women. It is an incredibly delicate and complex process.
Also known as Koya or Babinga.
Population & Ecosystem
1.700 Bakoya live in the dense jungles of Ogooue-Ivindo Province. Until 1965, they led a nomadic lifestyle but nowadays they are mainly settled along the Mekambo to Mazingo road and along the Mekambo to Ekata road in the Zadie Department.
Economy & Society
The Bakoya have been hunter and gatherers for centuries. Colonization and Westernization have forced into a more sedentary live based in subsistence agriculture. Despite these deep changes, Bakoya still hunt and gather wild fruits in a daily basis.
Culture & Religion
Bakoya Pygmies like to decorate their faces with a red and white paste obtained from plants and natural soils. One important remnant of the old ways that still persists are the rites of passage. Bakoya male rite of passage implies ritual dances, music, and chants and carrying the circumcised boys (faces painted with white paste) on the shoulders of siblings.
Also known as Baaka or Babinga.
Population & Ecosystem
3.000 Baka live in the dense tropical forests of northern Gabon in the region of Woleu-Ntem. Baka Pygmies are found in 7 villages, the biggest being Minvoul with 600 inhabitants.
Economy & Society
The Baka people are the principal hunter-gatherers of the tropical rainforest of Northern Gabon. Groups establish temporary camps of huts constructed of bowed branches covered in large leaves (though today more and more homes are constructed following Bantu methods).
The Baka hunt and gather their own food. The men hunt and trap in the surrounding forest, using poisoned arrows and spears to great effect. The men also welcome the help of dogs when going on hunting excursions.
Fishing is very important in Baka culture as young boys are taught to use fishing rods at a young age. The men fish using chemicals obtained from crushed plant material. Using fast-moving river water, they disperse the chemical downstream. This non-toxic chemical deprives fish of oxygen, making them float to the surface and easily collected by Baka men. Another method of fishing, performed generally only by women, is dam fishing, in which water is removed from a dammed area and fish are taken from the exposed ground. Children and adolescent-girls often accompany the women when they go fish-bailing in nearby streams. More than only fishing with adults, their job is also to help the women by watching over the infants while they fish. Women cultivate plants, such as plantains, cassavas and bananas, and practice beekeeping. The group remains in one area until it is hunted out. It then abandons the camp and settles down in a different portion of the forest. The group is communal and makes decisions by consensus.
During the dry season, it is common for the Baka to move and set camp within the forest in order to facilitate fishing and overall nutritional gathering. The Baka are the most active during these dry seasons. Men hunt from dawn until dusk and the women gather fruits which are used for the provision of juice and nuts. The Baka people continue to monitor bee activity in order to obtain honey.
In socio-economic and political spheres, the Baka people are not seen as equal to the Bantu villagers. The Baka rely on the farmers for trade opportunities. They exchange some of their primary goods (fruits, wild nuts, medicinal plants etc.) for money and industrial goods. The farmers are the Baka’s only connection to the modern Cameroonian or Gabonese bureaucracies. Because of this, the Baka often work as indentured servants to the farmers. The Baka thus follow most of the farmers’ orders. This unbalanced relationship often causes tensions between the two groups. These inequalities are perpetuated by the fact that some of the villagers speak French (the national language of Gabon) but none of the Baka do.
The Baka People form an acephalous society, one in which there are no political leaders or hierarchies. This makes it difficult for the Baka to assimilate to the political landscapes of Gabon.
Deforestation impacts the Baka as the forest is their home. About 100 instruments that the Baka use daily for cooking, hunting and gathering, rituals etc. have been recorded. Out of these 100 utensils, 40 of these utensils are made "partly or entirely out of natural resources" found in the forest. These deforestation projects can be extremely detrimental to the Baka as they will be destroying the environment on which they so heavily rely for absolute subsistence as well as for economic standing in face of the farmers.
Culture & Religion
Music is an important part of Pygmy life, and casual performances take place during many of the day's events. Music comes in many forms, including the spiritual likanos stories, vocal singing and music played from a variety of instruments including the bow harp, harp zither, and a string bow.
The Baka peoples are particularly known for their dense contrapuntal-communal improvisation. The level of polyphonic complexity of Baka music was reached in Europe only in the 14th century. The polyphonic singing of the Baka Pygmies was relisted on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.
Baka Pygmy music consists of up to four parts and can be described as an "ostinato with variations" similar to a passacaglia in that it is cyclical. It is based on repetition of periods of equal length that each singer divides using different rhythmic figures specific to different repertoires and songs. This creates a detailed surface and endless variations not only of the same period repeated but of various performances of the same piece of music. As in some Balinese gamelan music these patterns are based on a super-pattern which is never heard. The Baka themselves do not learn or think of their music in this theoretical framework, but learn the music growing up.
Polyphonic music is only characteristic of the Baka Pygmies.
Liquindi is water drumming, typically practiced by Baka Pygmy women and girls. The sound is produced by persons standing in water, and hitting the surface of the water with their hands, such as to trap air in the hands and produce a percussive effect that arises by sudden change in air pressure of the trapped air. The sound cannot exist entirely in water, since it requires the air-water boundary as a surface to be struck, so the sound is not hydraulophonic.
The Baka worship the forest spirit called Jengi (also known as Djengui or Ejengi). The spirit plays the role of the mediator between the Supreme Being, Komba, and the Baka people. The Baka thus compare Jengi to a protecting father or guardian. They strongly believe and revere Jengi as they believe that he is the only way to Komba. The Baka people believe Jengi to be omnipresent within the forest allowing him to punish transgressors within the confines of the forest. Ultimately, the Baka worship nature as it is Komba, not Jengi that resides in it.
After hunting successfully, the Baka worship Jengi with songs of thanksgiving and dancing in a ritual called Luma. These rituals are necessary for Jengi to appear before the Baka, as they believe that he only shows himself when harmony reigns among the villagers. Jengi also appears during the important ceremony, Jengi, where a young man goes from being a boy to a man. During these ceremonies, young Baka men volunteer to be initiated by Jengi. Once they are initiated, they have the right to live and walk freely within the sacred forest.
Death is considered to be a misfortune for the Baka. They deem the death of one of their own to be a representation of spiritual discord. Each tribe, having witnessed the death of one of their own, is required to pray to Jengi and dance around the debris covered corpse for an entire night. The dance performed during the death rituals is called the Mbouamboua. After a long night of dancing, the villagers depart from where they were stationed, leaving the corpse behind, and set out to move somewhere else in order to flee the curse.
Also known as Tsogo.
Population & Ecosystem
13.000 Mitsogo live in the forested highlands of south-central Gabon. They reside mainly in Ngounié Province to the north and east of Mouila. The region is named after the major river, Ngounié River, a tributary of the Ogooué River, and is so associated with the Mitsogo that it is often referred to as ‘Mitsogo country’.
Economy & Society
Mitsogo economy is based on shifting hoe farming in fields that have been carved out of the rain forests through slash and burn techniques. This is supplemented when necessary with hunting, fishing, and livestock, such as goats, sheep, and chickens. The surrounding Equatorial forests also provide various fruits, nuts, and tubers for consumption. The main crops include banana, yams, cassava, maize, peanuts, and manioc. Men do most of the hunting and gathering and clearing of land, and women perform the other agricultural tasks.
Oral histories of the Mitsogo indicate that their ancestors immigrated from an area in north-eastern Gabon around the Ivindo River valley during the 13th and 14th centuries. Art styles and techniques link the Mitsogo to other peoples in their region. Like the Fang and Kota peoples who live to the north and the Punu who live to the south, the Mitsogo carve figures whose primary purpose is to guard the relics of ancestors. They also practice bwiti, which is an observed practice of various other peoples throughout Gabon.
The peoples throughout this region of Gabon share similar political systems. Each village has a leader who has inherited his position based on his relationship to the founding family of that village. As a political leader, he often serves as an arbitrator and is equally recognized as a ritual specialist. This enables him to justify his position of power based on his relationship with the ancestors of the village. Each village consists of bark houses in arranged in a balanced pattern along straight streets, and the size of the village is often determined by the resources available.
Culture & Religion
Until the arrival of French missionaries and a new colonial economy based extensive agriculture production, the Mitsogo where renowned wood carvers. Mitsogo artists produced fine wooden reliquary figures that were used to protect the spirits of deceased ancestors and masks. Today, despite the profound cultural and social changes there is a Mitsogo cultural revival. Masks still play a big role in the culture of Mitsogo people. The masks are worn during harvest festivals, to welcome important guests, during funerals to pay their respect and for traditional dances. During traditional funerals masquerades are performed.
Since early 20th Century most Mitsogo converted to Catholicism. Today 20% of Mitsogo combine Christian rituals with the old African religion. Mitsogo religion centred on ancestors who were believed to wield power in the afterlife as they had as living leaders of the community. The skulls and long bones of these men were believed to retain power and are said to have control over the well-being of the family of the relics' keepers. Usually, the relics were kept hidden away from the uninitiated and women. Wooden sculptures covered with sheets of copper and brass, known as reliquary or guardian figures, were attached to the baskets containing the bones. Some believe that the figures are an abstract portrait of the deceased individual, while others argue that they are merely to protect the spirit of the deceased from evil. It must be remembered, however, that it was the bones themselves that were sacred, not the wooden figures. Thus, there is no apparent contradiction to individuals selling what in effect was the tombstone of their ancestors for considerable profit to art dealers. During migrations the relics were brought along, but the reliquaries were often left behind.
Also known as Bavarama.
Population & Ecosystem
2.200 Barimba Pygmies in the coastal forests and swamps of Nyanga Province of Southern Gabon.
Economy & Society
The Barimba have been hunter and gatherers for centuries. Colonization and Missionary activity in Mayumba Town have forced into a more sedentary live based in subsistence agriculture. Despite these deep changes, Barimba still combine agriculture with the gathering of wild fruits and some sporadic hunting.
Culture & Religion
Bwiti adepts, heavily influenced by Punu Bantu culture that dominates the region.
Also known as Akoa or Bakowa.
Population & Ecosystem
327 Akowa Pygmies live in the coastal forested areas of Port-Gentil, Omboue and Gamba.
Economy & Society
The Akowa have recently changed from being nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled villagers with subsistence agriculture supplemented by hunting. In the early 20th century they were fully nomadic and physically distinct from their Bantu neighbours, but by the mid-20th century they were starting to settle and to become physically indistinguishable.
Culture & Religion
The Akowa Pygmies together with the Babongo are the originators of the Bwiti religion and the use of iboga, said to have been discovered a thousand years ago. The ceremonies are always led by a healer called N’ganga who is the spiritual leader of the community. Men’s rituals are led by a male N’ganga and women’s rituals by a female. There are separate temples for men and women and the instruments used are also different; the main instrument being an 8-string Ngombi harp for women and Mongongo mouth-bow for men. Lots of percussion, hand clapping, and singing accompanies the ritual which has been said to help induce trance states.
In 2019 attempts have been made to establish an official Bwiti Festival in Moyen-Ogooue Province in Central Gabon. The objective behind this cultural festival would be to put in value Gabon’s traditional living culture and share with the outside world the values of Bwitism.
Gabonese tribal artists created some of the finest works of art in forested Africa. With the French colonization, profound cultural, social and economic changes modified forever these tribal societies and tribal art faded away. During the 1990s there has been a process of cultural revival among several groups that did not entirely forget the art techniques of their forefathers. In Punu country one can still see alive the stilt dances with geisha looking masks and in Fang and Mitsogo territories masks and biere (anthropomorphic wooden reliquary figues) are seeing a comeback, mainly related with the expanding Bwiti religious ceremonies. Out of villages and Bwiti temples and shrines one can observe Gabonese tribal art in Libreville’s National Museum of Art and Tradition with a interesting collection of masks, statues, reliquaries, and stone carvings. Most objects exhibited are not old and the museum is sometimes closed… said this it is worth a visit with someone that can explain the meaning of the objects, the style and contextualize them. The best Gabon tribal art is found in French and American private collections and in some museums in Europe and America.
The Fang are best known for their wooden reliquary figures which are abstract anthropomorphic carvings. There are a few in collections that are still attached to the original relics they were meant to protect.
The traditional religion of Fang centred on ancestors who are believed to wield power in the afterlife as they did as living leaders of the community. The skulls and long bones of these men were believed to retain power and to have control over the well-being of the family. Usually the relics were kept hidden away from the uninitiated and women. Wooden sculptures, known as reliquary guardian figures, were attached to the boxes containing the bones. Some believe that the figures are an abstract portrait of the deceased individual, while others argue that they serve to protect the spirit of the deceased from evil. It must be remembered, however, that it was the bones themselves that were sacred, not the wooden figures, thus there is no apparent contradiction in individuals selling what in effect was the tombstone of their ancestors for considerable profit to art dealers. During migrations the relics were brought along, but the reliquaries were often left behind.
The most common types of objects found are carved masks, which have been stylistically compared to Japanese art. They also carve standing reliquary figures, which watch over the bones of the deceased.
There is very little known about the Punu religion, but similarly to their neighbours to the north, the Fang and Kota, the Punu carve wooden reliquary figures which are stylistically different, but similarly attached to a basket carrying the bones of individual family ancestors. This seems to indicate a similarity in religious practices in regard to ancestor worship. There is also an abundance of female masks in this area. Several reports from early travellers in this area link those masks to the Mukui society, about which very little is known. Other reports link them to dances celebrating the female ancestors of the Punu peoples.
The reliquary figures of the Kota may be distinguished from their neighbors by the copper overlay on them. Some masks are found in collections, but these are extremely rare. Other utilitarian objects, such as pots, baskets, stools, and knives were often decorated with delicate patterns.
The traditional religion of Kota centred around ancestors who are believed to wield power in the afterlife as they had as living leaders of the community. The skulls and long bones of these men were believed to retain power and are said to have control over the well-being of the family of the relics' keepers. Usually the relics were kept hidden away from the uninitiated and women. Wooden sculptures covered with sheets of copper and brass, known as reliquary or guardian figures, were attached to the baskets containing the bones. Some believe that the figures are an abstract portrait of the deceased individual, while others argue that they are merely to protect the spirit of the deceased from evil. It must be remembered, however, that it was the bones themselves that were sacred, not the wooden figures, thus there is no apparent contradiction to individuals selling what in effect was the tombstone of their ancestors for considerable profit to art dealers. During migrations the relics were brought along, but the reliquaries were often left behind.
Rock art of Gabon
The main concentration of rock art sites in Gabon, all of them engraving sites, is located in the centre of the country, mainly within the Lope National Park. One of the best preserved of these sites which is relatively easy to reach is Kongo Boumba, overlooking the Ogooue River Valley. Most of the images are geometric with a dominant motif being Concentric Circles. This is a motif which also features prominently in many other parts of Central Africa and could be the work of hunter gatherers such as ancestral Babongo Pygmies. A more unusual motif found at some of these sites is what looks like engraved chains that run in long lines over the rocks sometimes linking groups of concentric circles. Most of the archaeological work here has been done by Richard Oslisly who has lived in Gabon for many years. He believes that the concentric circles are from the Stone Age and probably date back around 2500 years while some of the other depictions are more recent, from the Iron Age. The latter typically show rather primitive looking human figures and sometimes animals. They have usually been pecked out, perhaps using a spear or sharp metal instrument.
Gabon, like much of Africa, is home to countless endangered and threatened species that face extinction from both natural and manmade sources. To help curb this loss of invaluable wildlife and keep the country’s remaining natural resources safe, the Gabonese government established in 2002 one of the most comprehensive and expansive national park systems in the world. It all began with legislature passed by former president Omar Bongo Ondimba that established an astounding 10% of the country’s land as officially recognized and protected parkland, one of the largest allotments in the entire world.
Gabon has 13 listed national parks. From all these parks that cover three million hectares (primary and secondary rainforests, swamps, tropical savannahs, mangroves, and isolated forest inselbergs) very few can be visited with certain comfort conditions. The easiest and in many aspects the best places in Gabon to spot wild animals would be: Loango National Park, Lope National Park, and Pongara National Park.
Pongara National Park
Pongara National Park is the closest park to Libreville. It covers an area of 929 km² extending along the Komo Estuary and the Atlantic Ocean. Beautiful wild beaches and mangroves area which is the largest of the country. The park also has varied landscapes with at the same time savannas and tropical forest where forest elephants, red buffaloes, and chimpanzees can be spotted. Lastly, Pongara National Park is a breeding site for Leatherback sea turtles. Pointe Denis is part of Pongara National Park and the location of a sea turtle research station.
From November to March: Observation of the egg-laying of turtles (however make sure to ask before to go because it can also depend of the moon cycle) From July to September: Whale watching.
Loango National Park
Very little was known about the possibility of travelling to Gabon and visit Loango National Park, until Michael Fay’s Congo Basin Mega Transect (2002) when he explored Gabon’s virgin forests. During this expedition the photographer and conservationist Nick Nichols from National Geographic took his famous pictures of surfing hippos and elephants on the beach. Travelling to Gabon and visiting Loango National Park means discovering one of Africa’s best spots to observe jungle fauna. Nature and wildlife fanatics will not be disappointed: long days of trekking will be rewarded with the sight of wild creatures in their own pristine environment. The experience will transport you back to a time when Mother Earth – not humans – ruled the land.
Situated between the Nkomi and Ndogo Lagoons, Loango National Park has an extension of 1.550 km of savannah, pristine beach (100 km of uninhabited coast), forest and mangroves are a must-see in Gabon. Travelling to Gabon and visiting Loango National Park offers breathtaking panoramas and the unique opportunity to observe African jungle animals in their natural habitats. Gabon ranks amongst the highest wildlife density holding countries in the world. During your safaris in Loango national park you have a chance to see amongst others: the smaller forest elephant, red forest buffalo, red river hogs with furry ears, the slender snouted crocodiles, sitatunga, duikers, a variety of monkeys, a huge array of birds, humpback whales, dolphins, hippos, chimpanzees, and habituated western lowland gorillas.
Loango National Park is scheduled to become a gorilla trekking hotspot. After the success of the first group of habituated western lowland gorillas in Loango National Park, the Loango Gorilla Project began habituating a second group in August 2018.
The Loango Gorilla Project started actively habituating the Atananga Group for tourism and research in 2011. Unless the group is habituated it is unlikely that you will see wild gorillas.
Loango National Park is ecologically distinct from other western lowland gorilla locations. The Loango guerrillas have learned to crack and eat nuts, a behaviour documented in one other gorilla population. Variations in behaviour between different groups and populations indicate each group has a specific culture, learned from social interactions.
Tourists can expect a more adventurous, authentic, ‘tropical jungle’ experience in Loango National Park, compared to Uganda or Rwanda’s gorilla trekking, and are more likely to see Loango’s gorillas in trees.
The best time to see gorillas in Gabon is from March to May as they are less mobile during the rainy season and easier to find due to abundant food supplies. Gorilla trekking in Loango National Park is limited to four days a week to minimise disturbance.
Special wildlife months in Loango National Park: In the rainy season, from approximately September to May, you can view forest elephants and red forest buffalos roaming on the beaches of Loango National Park, a sighting not found easily in today’s world. From mid-July to mid-September is the best period for humpback whale watching.The largest concentration and variety of whales and dolphins after South Africa. Humpback Whales and even Killer Whales are often easily observed. From October to February is the turtle nesting season. Habituated Western lowland gorillas can be easily observed since 2017 inside the jungle. Last but not least the famous ‘surfing hippos’ are best seen in January, though chances are slim. It will always be possible to see them in the lagoons and rivers inside Loango National Park.
Lope National Park
Lope National Park covers an area of 4910 km². The terrain is mostly rainforest. In the north of the park are the last remnants of the grass savannahs created during the last ice age and these represent a unique record of the biological evolution of that time. The Ogooué River runs through the north of Lope National Park with wonderful trees coming down to the river’s edge, playing home to a wide range of birds and mammals (63 species of the latter).
Some of the mammal species include the forest elephant, western lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, mandrill, forest buffalo, sun-tailed guenon, leopard, black colobus, sitantunga and yellow-backed duiker. Bird species include rosy bee-eater, crowned hawk eagle, Dja River warbler, great blue turaco, grey-necked rock fowl (picathartes), the chocolate-backed kingfisher, emerald cuckoo and black guinea fowl. Excursions to observe the mandrills with radio tracking devices have proved to be worthwhile around the Lope Lodge, and some good photographs may be obtained.
Lope National Park features a forest-savanna mosaic habitat, where narrow fingers of forest follow rivers and streams that flow through the savanna. Because mandrills regularly cross the savannas, Lope is one of the few sites where they can be more easily observed by researchers and tourists alike. As a result of WCS’ long-term project at Lope, its mandrill hordes are some of the most studied wild mandrills in the world.
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) had put GPS collars onto four females from one well studied horde in the park. The collars transmit GPS coordinates to WCS researchers at certain times each day, allowing us to build up a more detailed picture of their daily movements. Previous research at Lope has shown that mandrill movements are related to availability of fruit.
Combining the movement data with phenology data (which tree species are fruiting and when) gathered by the National Parks Authority, will allow us to confirm this relationship and assess other ecological- or human factors.
The collars also transmit radio signals, allowing researchers and tourists to locate the mandrills in the forest and predict the direction in which they will move. Researchers and tourists can then get ready inside a portable hide, so that the passing mandrills will be oblivious to the human observers! As well as providing a good opportunity to gather more data on the mandrills, this is a really great way for tourists to be able to get up close to the mandrills without them noticing their presence.
The Lope area has been inhabited for nearly 400,000 years and there are numerous artefacts telling the tales of the ancient hunter-gatherer settlements. The Ogooué River has been a major trading route through these times and a road was built through the north of the park in the 1960s. The area was opened to forestry by the building of the railway in the 1980s – this connects the national park to both Ivindo and Libreville.
Most villages are today concentrated around the railway and road, with very few rural villages in the rest of the Lope area. Some Babongo Pygmy groups still hunt and gather in the south of the park and a few are employed by the research station due to their skill in tracking through the forest.
The parks is under constant threat from hunting and ivory poaching, as well as commercial logging – however a training centre has been established to train young African conservationists and a good educational programme operates throughout the surrounding villages for further education in wildlife issues.
Situated south of Moanda and Franceville, Lekedi Park is the successful result of an astonishing conversion project. Bakoumba, the place with the longest mono-cable way in the world (76km), became in some years a "nature" town. On 14.000ha has been set up: fish culture, breading of wild animals, ecotourism, mushroom production, roof tiles, pottery, weaving of raffia. Platforms for observation of the animals (especially mandrills and chimps), the ties of the railway used as fence posts, and most spectacular, a 30m high bridge of 360m long overlooking the canopy where a colony of chimps is living. The excursions in the park allow you to approach wild group of mandrills at very close quarter. In Last Places we propose a combined tour of Lope National Park, where mandrills are more complicated to observe, with Lekedi Park where mandrills there are accustomed to human presence and they are easier to photograph.
Within the park, there is a primate sanctuary and rehabilitation centre which cares for gorillas, chimpanzees and monkeys that have been orphaned and rescued from the bushmeat trade. Whenever possible, the orphans are rehabilitated and returned to the wild. If reintroduction is not possible, they join the sanctuary for lifelong care where their presence serves as a reminder to visitors of the value of protecting wild primate species. The goal of the Primate Refuge is not to collect a large group of gorillas or chimpanzees. It is to educate visitors about conservation so that these animals can remain in the wild.
Ivindo National Park
Ivindo National Park was declared as recently as 2002. Located in the central-east of the country, bisected by the equator, it was first brought to the attention of the outside world when Mike Fay traversed Ivindo during his famous mega transect expedition in 2000.
In 2001 a research camp was established near Langoué Bai by WCS. The main focus of the research team is to monitor the wildlife, particularly large mammals including gorillas, sitatungas, buffalo and elephant. Research at Langoué Bai focuses mainly on elephants and gorillas, and some elephant have been fitted with GPS transmitters to analyse their movements. Other species present are the chimpanzee, forest buffalo, bongo, red river hog, leopard and the slender snouted crocodile.
A butterfly study discovered a thriving, diversified population, including two new species; there have been leopard studies to recognise individual specimens and a red hog observation project. The basic research camp plays host to a small amount of tourists each year. Access to the camp is by foot and visitors carry their own luggage for the duration of the walk. All the activities centre around the Langoué Bai, and visiting the viewing platform overlooking the large forest clearing where gorilla, elephant and sitatunga feed off the succulent grasses.
Apart from the animals, the park has spectacular waterfalls (Koungou, Mingouli, Djidji); the most impressive in all the equatorial forests of Africa. They are best viewed by air. The total area of the park is 3,000 km² and vegetation is lowland forest – for the most part, pristine. There are very few human settlements within close proximity to the park, other than in the north-eastern sector. The only access into Ivindo is via the Trans-Gabon railway (can catch it from Libreville or Lope National Park), or by private plane landing on a dirt airstrip in Makokou. The rivers flowing through the area are large and expeditions into the interior of the forest are occasionally undertaken by boat. All food/drink arrives by train as there is no road link into Ivindo National Park.
Fishing, hunting and ivory poaching are a constant threat to the wildlife in the area; neighbouring forestry companies make constant incursions into the park. A possible future threat emerges with the proposed building of a hydro-electric dam on the Ivindo River and the construction of a railway in close proximity to the park in order to ship iron ore to its north-east corner. An important, indirect threat is the weak and inexperienced government involvement in park protection.
Mayumba National Park
Nestled on a thin strip of land in the southern region of Gabon that borders the Republic of the Congo, Mayumba National Park is home to some of the most stunning natural sights Africa has to offer. The small coastal town of Mayumba serves as the steward for the nearly 900 km² of protected land and sea that comprises the park. As part of the country’s impressive ecotourism efforts, Mayumba National Park not only protects the forested and desert areas of the region, but the coastline and nearby sea as well. As the only national park in Gabon to focus predominantly on its marine life, the actual boundaries of the park extend 15 kilometres out into the Atlantic Ocean. This not only helps to safeguard the leatherback turtles during mating season, but also helps to protect the other types of marine life native to the area, including various species of sharks and dolphins. The Mayumba coast is also host to approximately 10% of the world’s humpback whale population during its annual migration. The leatherback turtles are also unique among other species of turtles in that populations exist in virtually every section of the world, spreading as far north as Norway and as far south as New Zealand. Even so, the turtles only choose to mate in a small number of locations in warmer climates, with one of the largest residing in the beaches of Mayumba. Current studies estimate that approximately 30,000 turtles visit the beaches of Mayumba each year, potentially making it not only the largest in Africa but the entire world. As the turtles are most vulnerable during the early stages of their lives, when they are still on land and have yet to develop their protective features, conserving and protecting these breeding grounds is paramount to the long term protection of the species.
Akanda National Park
Akanda National Park is located on the north east coast of Gabon. The park is near the town of Libreville in the north and on the bays of Mondah and Corisco which are rich in Marine life and exotic plant species. This coastal park is actually Mangrove swamps, lowland evergreen forest, savanna patches and long stretch of tidal beach and together occupies an area of 540 km². Together with neighbouring Pongara National Park, Akanda Gabon Park boasts 2.5% of the entire mangrove swamp area in Africa.
Moukalaba-Doudou National Park
Moukalaba–Doudou National Park is Gabon’s third largest protected area and receives far less visitors compared to its more famous counterparts of Lope and Loango. Located about 700 km south of Libreville, Moukalaba–Doudou covers an area of 4,500 km² and its diverse habitats range from tropical rainforest and grassy savannahs to papyrus swamps. The park, which also covers some coastal areas, includes the Moukalaba River and the Ndogo Lagoon, while the Doudou Mountains are the largest mountain range in southwestern Gabon, reaching an altitude of 800 mts. The Moukalaba-Doudou area was given the status of a national park in 2002. In 2005, the site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List as a place of outstanding universal value. Thirty years ago, the Doudou Mountains were extensively logged. Now, the area is completely uninhabited and Marantaceae plants grow on the former logging sites. These leafy plants provide an important source of food for western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and forest elephants, and contribute to their presence in the region. Moukalaba-Doudou has an estimated population of about 5,000 chimpanzees and gorillas - which is one of the highest densities of primates in Gabon - and grants tourist with a unique opportunity to observe our closest animal relatives in the wild. Kyoto University is conducting a long-term survey of gorillas and chimpanzees in the park and simultaneously contributes to conservation awareness amongst the local people.
The park’s savannahs are the only place in Gabon where you can find waterbuck and reedbuck, and the hippos enjoy wallowing in the rivers of the Nyanga River.
Birdwatchers will be delighted with Moukalaba – Doudou, too. The park provides a habitat for over 380 species of birds, some of them unique. Vermiculated fishing owl, black-backed barbet, black-headed batis, fiery-breasted bush shrike, brown twinspot and some rare swallows, were all spotted within the boundaries of the park.
Community-based eco-tourism initiatives exist within the park. Gorilla trekking is organized around the village of Doussala. Experienced guides take visitors deep into the rainforest. Good physical fitness, as well as the ability to appreciate basic living conditions, is required to undertake this amazing safari adventure.
The best time to see primates is during the dry season, which stretches from May to September. The rainy season runs from October to April and is the preferred time for bird watching.
Minkebe National Park
The largest of Gabon's parks at 7000 km², Minkebe is the greatest refuge for elephants in the Congo Basin; there are said to be 30,000 individuals. Minkebe National Park has a great tourist potential but nowadays is difficult to visit due to the lack of paths inside the park, very few rangers, and no accommodation infrastructure. Western Lowland Gorillas are also found in the park together with chimpanzees, red buffaloes, pangolins, and the endangered bongo.
Inselbergs, formed millions of years ago, rise up above the forest canopy. There are enormous trees and a myriad plants including orchids and ferns.
Bateke Plateau National Park
The 5,300 km2 Bateke Plateau National Park is part of a tri-national protected area that comprises Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, together with Gabon that covers some 6 million hectares. The Bateke Plateau Forest Savanna is a unique landscape for central Africa. Dominated by a giant ancient sand dune system, the land is covered by large grass and wooded savanna patches separated by fine lines of dense gallery forest, and several turquoise blue river valleys.
The Bateke Plateau offers spectacular vistas with huge sandstone outcrops, and is home to an interesting biodiversity found nowhere else in the Congo Basin. Unique variants of species such as the lion (Panthera leo), Grimm's duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia), the side striped jackal (Canis adustus), and the Denham's bustard (Neotis denhami) are but a few of the landscape's faunal particularities. A new species of bird, the Teke cisticola (Cisticola sp. nov.) has recently been confirmed in the Gabon portion of the Plateau. The gallery forests retain a rich compliment of Congo Basin species, including typical forest dwellers such as elephant, buffalo, bushpigs, duikers, chimpanzees and several monkey species.
During 2005 biological and socio-economic surveys were conducted in the Bambama-Lekana site in Congo which demonstrated the presence of elephant, buffalo, bushpig, bushbuck, gorilla, chimpanzee, and hippo sign in the northern gallery forests and in the southern forest zone of the study area. Independent sightings of a large carnivore footprints were found in the Lefini Reserve thought to be lion have led to the initiate of directed lion surveys using Camera trap to confirm the presence of the cats in the region and design a conservation intervention strategy. Early in 2015, remote cameras set out in Bateke to survey chimpanzees unexpectedly captured a lion, who was subsequently filmed (and heard roaring) a number of times that year. This marked the first definitive proof of the big cat in Gabon since a lioness was seen north of the park in 1996, though promising-looking paw prints spotted in 2004 had biologists intrigued. The lion's continued presence in the park, home to broad savannahs stitched by thick gallery forests, is an encouraging sign.
The John Aspinall Foundation manages withing the park boundaries the Projet de Protection des Gorilles, which manages gorilla sanctuaries.
Birougou National Park
Birougou National Park contains extremely dense rain forest in the Chaillu Mountains and is one of the two parks where the endemic sun-tailed guenon, a monkey first described in 1988, can be found. It is named after Mount Birougou 975 metres in altitude, one of the highest peaks in the country.
Due to its purported universal cultural and natural significance, it was added onto the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List on October 20, 2005. Portions of the park have been designated as a Ramsar site since 2007.
Crystal Mountains National Park
Crystal Mountains National Park (French: Parc National des Monts de Cristal) is a twin park situated in the Monts de Crystal on the western edge of the Woleu-Ntem Plateau, between Equatorial Guinea and the Ogooué River. The twin parks, Mbe National Park and Mt Sene National Park, were established on 2002, based on their exceptionally high plant biodiversity and forming part of a former Pleistocene rain forest refuge.
Mwagna National Park
The rich mineral soil of the baï attracts elephants, apes, giant forest hogs and various antelopes. One can also find the Gabon viper, fascinating spiders, stinging ferns and rare birds. Bordering the Republic of Congo, Mwagna National Park is in north-eastern Gabon. It is pretty inaccessible and has very few human inhabitants.
Waka National Park
In west central Gabon, sheltered mountain ranges in the far north of the Massif of Chaillu Waka National Park covers 1070 km2. Difficult to access, Waka National Park is still little studied and even rarely photographed by scientists. Spiritual culture and traditions play an important role in the daily lives of residents of Waka. For different ethnic groups, the forest is a source of food, medicines and inspiration. All these people have a lifestyle in total harmony with nature that enabled them to keep this place intact. They are the leading experts in the forest of Waka.
A valid passport and a visa are required for travel to Gabon. Applications for visas have to be made in advance in your country of origin or wherever there is a Gabonese embassy or consulate. Last Places assists all travelers that need any type of help applying for the visa. We recommend that passports be valid for six months from date of arrival.
Vaccines and Travel Health
A valid yellow fever vaccination certificate is essential for entry to Gabon. Malaria is prevalent in the country. It is wise to take Malaria prophylaxis when travelling to Gabon. Water supply is unsafe to drink, visitors should drink bottle water. Visitors should also avoid eating unpeeled, unwashed fruit and vegetables.
Security in Gabon
Gabon is one of the safest countries in Central Africa together with Sao Tome and Principe Islands. Possible petty theft in Libreville popular markets. Some police controls can be a long and tiring and sometimes officers might ask for a tip. The driver or guide will deal with this issue when the moment comes.
When to go to Gabon
Travelers can visit Gabon all year around. Last Places offers trips to Gabon all year around. Said this, one must plan the trip to Gabon according to its interests in fauna spotting.
Currency in Gabon
The unit of currency is the Central African Franc (FCFA). Visitors should bring enough cash for their needs. Money can be exchanged at the airport or at the bank. Euros are changed without any problem. Credit cards are only accepted in larger hotels, and cash withdrawals are not possible. Few ATMs in Libreville accept foreign cards.
Time in Gabon
Electricity in Gabon
Electrical current in Gabon is 220 volts, 50Hz. Round pin attachment plugs are in use.
Communications in Gabon
The international dialing code for Gabon is +241. There are many more mobile telephones than fixed lines and the mobile coverage around Libreville and other main centers is much more reliable than fixed lines. Internet access is not easy out of Libreville or Port Gentil.
Language in Gabon
The official language of Gabon is French, sharing space with several Bantu languages. English is spoken by few people, mainly working in tourist sector.
Prohibitions in Gabon
Do not take photographs of government buildings, or use binoculars near them, as this could lead to arrest.
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