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Lope National Park

Lope National Park

Gabon’s Lopé National Park is situated in the rainforests of central Gabon. In the park’s northern region, the last remnants of grass savannas stemming from the last ice age (some 15,000 years ago!) can be found. This area became the first protected area in Gabon when the Lopé-Okanda Wildlife Reserve was created in 1946. In 2007, the Lopé-Okanda landscape was added to the World Heritage List by UNESCO. The park contains a small research station called Mikongo that is run by the Zoological Society London.

The Ogooué River runs through the north of the park. The trees that come right down to the river’s edge are home to a wide range of birds and mammal species. Wildfowl include the rosy bee-eater, crowned hawk eagle, Dja river warbler, great blue turaco, grey-necked rock fowl (pitacarthes), the chocolate-backed kingfisher, emerald cuckoo, and black guinea fowl. Mammals in the park include the forest elephant, western lowland gorilla, forest buffalo, leopard, sun sitatunga, yellow-backed duiker, -tailed guenon, black colobus, chimpanzee, grey-cheeked mangabey, mandrill, and moustached, putty-nosed, and crowned monkey.

The Ogooué River has historically been a major trading route, and a road was built through the north of the park in the 1960s. With the construction of the railway in the 1980s, the region was opened to forestry. The railway continues to connect the park with both Ivindo and Libreville. Today, most villages are concentrated around the railway and road, with very few rural villages in the rest of the Lope area. Some Bongo "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 forest tracking.

The park is under constant threat from hunting, ivory poaching, and commercial logging. A training center has been established to train young African conservationists, and a good educational program operates throughout the surrounding villages for further education in wildlife issues. Lopé has also been the center of long-term research and conservation work by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

Although gorilla-tracking as a specific activity has been suspended until more progress has been made with habituation, the highlight here is wonderful forest walks with knowledgeable local guides.

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