Gabon & Gorillas
Exceptional Western Lowland Gorilla tracking in beautiful Loango National Park, Gabon.
The boat cuts through the rising mist on the Iguela lagoon. Our hair blown back by the wind as we race past seemingly endless forested peninsulas and islands. We keep a keen eye out for the tell-tale water surface swirl of a West African Manatee, quite common in these waters but tough to see. Palm nut vultures circle over the forest, Shining-blue kingfishers dart along the water’s edge and large flocks of noisy hornbills make their way to distant fruiting trees. The scale of this place astounds. Endless water and endless green.
By the time we arrive at the Max Planck Institute Gorilla project base we are struck with how remote and unspoiled this region really is. The only way to reach the base is by boat, there are no roads, no other tourists, no lodges crowding around the gorilla habitat.
The projects highly skilled trackers have been out since first light tracking the gorillas from where they nested the night before. Once found they share an updated location with us and we begin our trek into the steamy jungle. Guided by an expert team of guides and researchers we have an incredibly privileged insight into the forest. The forest is full of elephant, and one of the guides key responsibilities at this stage is to navigate us through the forest safely. With calm practiced confidence they lead us past elephants in the tangled undergrowth ensuring our safety and leaving the elephants undisturbed. The guides point out feeding sign of the gorillas and name all their favourite fruit trees as we pass, some we eat as well, surprised by the diversity of juicy fruits and nutty seeds along the route.
The real magic begins when we join the trackers where they have found the gorilla family. With utmost care and sensitivity our group carefully positions in order to observe the apes. As the gorillas play, feed and interact with each other the lead researcher softly narrates the goings on. Such a level of insight, understanding of the individual personalities, their interactions and predicting upcoming movements creates the richest of experiences. Patience, and the guides deep understanding of the apes eventually leads to us being in the perfect position as the gorillas begin to move again after their post feeding nap. One by one the incredible beings pass by our group; we are frozen in awe. Mothers with infants riding on their backs, playful toddlers and cheeky teenagers all pass until finally the enormous form of the huge male silverback looms out of the forest gloom towards us. For a moment we feel vulnerable and tiny next to the muscle-bound slab of an ape, hearts pounding and barely breathing until he continues past us following his family into the forest.
I have had the privilege to track great apes in many locations in Africa and Asia. These experiences are truly touching and thought inspiring. Joining the team at the Max Planck Institute in Loango National Park in Gabon rates among the very best experiences I have ever had. Nestled deep in the wildest jungles of Africa, a group of only four participants, guided with integrity and gently educated by dedicated research staff combine to create an experience of a lifetime.