Gabon and Lopé National Park
Gabon is located in Central Africa where the tropical Congo Basin forests meet the Atlantic Ocean. It is a truly remarkable country; larger than the United Kingdom and nearly 80% forested but home to only 1.5 million people. Alongside its human inhabitants, it is home to large populations of some of Africas’ most iconic wildlife such as central chimpanzee and forest elephant.
Recognising his countries wealth of biodiversity, and looking to both conserve it and generate revenue from tourism, the late president Omar Bongo designated 13 National parks, almost 11% of Gabon's total area.
One of the largest is Lopé National Park (LNP), the first protected area in Gabon (designated in 1946), encompassing almost 5,000km2 of tropical forest and mixed savannah. It is part of the ‘Lopé-Okanda Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape’, a UNESCO world heritage site. This region represents a glimpse of what much of central Africa was like 18,000 years ago as the cooler, drier, climate meant that large areas of forest were replaced by mixed forest-savannah mosaic.
It is home to a diverse range of species, including: the Western Lowland gorilla , forest elephant, mandrill, forest buffalo and central chimpanzee to name but a few. In recognition of its importance, in 2005 Lopé-Okanda NP was selected as an Exceptional Priority Area in the Regional Action Plan for the Conservation of Chimpanzees and Gorillas in Western Equatorial Africa. The area is also highly significant in terms of our own species' history, containing an array of human cultural remains and showing signs of continuous human habitation from 400,000 years ago to the present day.
Despite this, the Lopé-Okanda ecosystem and its wildlife face a number of threats, including; overlapping and active logging concessions, illegal commercial hunting and disease risks such as that posed by Ebola haemorrhagic fever to great apes. At the same time these threats are compounded by a lack of local and national capacity to both address these threats.
From 2001 to 2009 ZSL ran an ecotourism project in partnership with park authorities in Lopé National Park at the Mikongo Conservation Centre (MCC) and we continue to support local communities and authorities to try and help secure the future for this remarkable ecosystem and its wildlife.