In researching our wildlife holidays to Gabon, Archipealgo holiday specialists, Emma and Susanne, spent some time with gorilla in Loango National Park. This is how they got on….
We can smell their sweet, musky smell as we watch the family group. Research student, and one of our guides, Fynn clicked his tongue again; this familiar noise reassuring the silverback, Kamaya, our presence is friendly. The western lowland gorilla, Kamaya, was first identified by the research team in 2009. He is recognisable not only by his size and colouring, but by the large scar on the right side of his face which we caught a glimpse of as he did a mock charge, beating his chest to remind us to keep our distance.
Kamaya has a big job. He’s the chief of a large family of 10, made up of 3 adult females and 6 youngsters ranging from an infant born in 2016, to the young male, Moutchi – meaning intelligent – born in 2008-2009. During our hour with the troop, we saw 5 members of the family, as well as Kamaya. They were feeding contentedly, moving gently from bush to bush to find the juiciest leaves, snoozing and digesting. Unlike chimpanzee who can be highly strung and aggressive, gorilla are gentle vegetarians not prone to emotional outbursts. Still, merely being in their presence is overwhelmingly impressive and being eyeballed by one is almost heart stopping!
Gorilla are found in the rainforest across Gabon, but Loango National Park has the only habituated troop, meaning they tolerate human presence without changing their behaviour. The troop are monitored daily by a dedicated team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute who record their location and behaviour, including who is interreacting with who, every few minutes. The project has been operating since 2005; the Max Planck Institute also operate the second longest running research project on gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
Safety is a priority when spending time with gorilla so there are a few practicalities to consider when planning your visit:
Like any wildlife experience anywhere in the world, you are not guaranteed to see the gorilla as they travel large distances and their movements are not predictable.
You might have to walk for up to three hours through dense rainforest to find the gorilla, perhaps even through the swampy areas they tend to like, so you need to be physically fit and preferably have experience in walking in hot, humid rainforest environments. You’ll also have to walk three hours back of course! Just to be sure, the project do ask that those over 65 years show a doctors certificate before travelling to confirm they are physically fit do the trek, and able to move quickly for a couple of hundred meters if required.
You need to be healthy, even a common cold can be transferred to the gorilla and you will not be able to spend time with them if you have an infection. Even if you are well, you will have to wear a face mask to protect the gorilla against any possible disease transmission.
Spending time with the troop in Gabon is the most incredible privilege, and experience of a lifetime. Unlike other places where you can see gorilla, visitor numbers are low in Gabon and group visits to the gorilla are small (there were only 3 of us), not daily and limited to an hour, with the troop receiving a maximum of 2 groups on any day.
The project is carefully managed to ensure that visitors money is directly channelled to the Gabonese National Parks Agency who manage and protect Loango, as well as Gabon’s 12 other national Parks.
If this sounds like something you’d love to do, take a look at our carefully crafted holidays to Gabon and give Emma or Susanne a ring on 017687 721040.