We travelled to one of Africa’s most secret national parks, Loango, in Gabon, to find out why this mosaic of forest, savannah, mangrove and untouched coastline is so often referred to as ‘Africa’s last eden’.
What we found was incredible and here are three amazing, unique experiences you can have with us on your wildlife holiday to Gabon :
Trek with gorilla
As Archipelago Gabon specialists, Emma and Susanne, found in Gabon and Kate Humble found out in the DRC, seeing gorilla for the first time is an incredible and moving experience. And, unlike in other, more well-known destinations, in Gabon you’ll probably find you’re sharing your gorilla encounter – and the entire national park – with only a couple of other foreign visitors.
Trekking with western lowland gorilla in Gabon’s Loango National Park is a new activity, with visitors only spending time with the habituated troop since June 2016. We make sure that income raised from gorilla visits on your wildlife holiday to Gabon supports park management and research projects.
As well as spending time with the gorilla, you’ll have the unique opportunity to chat to the research team at their forest camp. Research into gorilla in Gabon was actually set up by Max Planck Institute back in 2005 with the aim of understanding more about these primates, who we know relatively little about compared to their better studied cousins in East Africa. The team make more than 1000 hours of behavioural observations a year and are full of interesting stories! They also monitor other groups of gorilla in the area with their remote sensor camera traps, and through genetic analysis of faeces – so they have a really good idea of who’s who and where they hang out.
The research team have just (Aug ’19) made the discovery that Loango’s gorilla eat African walnuts ; this is surprising because cracking the nut shells with their teeth had previously been considered too taxing for gorilla dentition. The observation may mean early humans had a broader diet than we’d thought.
See forest elephant
There are thought to be nearly 50,000 elephant living in the forests of Gabon, and around 1000 to 1500 forest elephant just in Loango National Park. According to the Cornell Universities Elephant Listening Project, and the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), Gabon may well be the stronghold of the forest elephant in Central Africa.
You’ll see forest elephant on your wildlife holiday to Gabon with us; they live in small groups and move around according to where food is available. Forest elephant not only live in different habitat, eat a different diet and are smaller; they are actually genetically different from Asian and African savanna elephant too….although inevitably there’s sometimes some mixing of forest and savannah elephants where territories overlap.
In Loango, you might notice elephant with radio collars on. Six females have been fitted with radio collars so that their movements can be monitored. Researchers are trying to understand out what elephants need, and how they use their territories, so they can better serve them through protected areas. For example, elephants in Loango have been found to have ranges 10 – 100 times smaller than herds in northern Congo. Teams are looking into whether this is because they prefer to stick to the safety of small areas of land free from hunters; or because the patchwork of forest and savannah means food is easy to find and their ranges don’t need to be so large.
With 11% of land designated as protected within 13 national parks, Gabon recognises the importance of conserving it’s wildlife and wild areas for future generations. Now, in partnership with Space for Giants, Gabon will be looking at attracting more tourists to it’s national parks through securing investment that will help support wildlife protection and local communities. This is great news for elephants, Gabon, you and us.
Because forest elephant live in areas with relatively low human population density, they have the best chance of any elephant species to survive. So protecting the forests of central Africa – the second largest tropical forest landscape on earth – and allowing free roaming of elephant between Gabon, Congo and Cameroon is hugely important. We hope that by supporting national parks through ‘green tourism’, our wildlife holidays to Gabon will help ensure the future for elephants looks bright.
Watch humpback whales
The warm waters off the coast of Gabon, and surrounding the archipelago of Sao Tome and Principe, are important calving, nursing and resting areas for humpback whales and (if you’re luckly) it’s possible to see them on our whale watching trips. In the opening minutes of episode 2 of his recent documentry ‘Africa with Ade Adepitan‘, Ade has the incredible experience of seeing one of these humpbacks breaching off the coast of Gabon – well worth a watch.
The humpbacks migrate from subantartic waters, following the Namibian and Angolan coasts, arriving off the shores Gabon and Sao Tome in June to enjoy the shallow waters of the continental plateau, and sheltered bays of the islands. They stay until September; with perhaps a few females and calves staying until October when they depart again. The gestation period of humpback whales is 11-12 months and females generally reproduce every 2-3 years as calves nurse for around 11 months. Interestingly, humpbacks don’t, or only rarely, feed in the tropical water, but concentrate just on forming couples and calving.
Once they’ve decided to migrate back to their feeding grounds in the south, humpbacks swim at average speeds of 6-12 km per hour and can reach up to 27km per hour! Not a bad speed for these giants who are an average of 35 tonnes (3 double decker buses) and 12-16 meters in length.
Although we call them ‘whales’, humpbacks are actually rorquals – different from whales as they have only one dorsal fin; they also have long grooves that run from their chin to their belly. The humpback , so called because the dorsal fin emerges from a hump, is the most common rorqual.
Humpbacks can be individually recognised by their tail fins and Gabon’s population is carefully monitored by the WCS to make sure they are not experiencing too much disturbance from industry, fishing, shipping and habitat loss.
Wildlife holidays to Gabon with Archipelago Choice
For the adventurous, open minded, big hearted, traveller who doesn’t mind long bumpy vehicle rides and high humidity, our holidays to Gabon promise the experience of a lifetime.
We specialise in tailor made wildlife holidays to Gabon and the spectacular tropical islands of Sao Tome and Principe just an hours’ flight away. To find out more about Gabon and our holidays, call our destination specialists Emma and Susanne on 01768 721020.