Who They Are
The Africa’s Eden lodges and camps vary greatly in terms of what they offer and where they are situated. But wherever you are in Loango National Park, forest, savannah, lagoon, and beach are never very far away.
Loango Lodge, where Operation Loango began in 2001, features 7 upscale, traditionally decorated bungalows, each with a private terrace and superb views of the tranquil river and the park. The lodge is the perfect base from which to launch expeditions into different areas and camps. In the rainy season from November to April, buffalos and elephants can sometimes be seen passing by in the park while enjoying an early breakfast.
Evengué Lodge is located on an island that also is a gorilla sanctuary and reintroduction center run by the Fernan-Vaz Gorilla Project (see video, below). The lodge has five comfortable bungalows (one of which floats on the lagoon), each with a private terrace, either facing the lagoon or set in the forest. Nearby is Mission St. Anne, which was designed by Gustav Eiffel.
Pte. Ste. Catherine Beach Camp is so remote that the only footprints in the sand besides your own are those left by scurrying crabs (or, between October and February, nesting turtles). It is comprised of five cozy Meru tents, each with two single beds, an en-suite bathroom and shower, mounted on a platform with a private terrace under a palm-thatch roof facing the ocean.
The five-tented Akaka Bush Camp, meanwhile, faces the forest in the remotest part of Loango. The only way to reach the camp is by boat (2-4 hours from Loango Lodge). It was on these wild unspoiled beaches of Petit Loango that Nick Nichols shot the famous pictures of surfing hippos for National Geographic.
For the physically fit, there are walking expeditions of several days from Akaka Bush Camp to Petit Loango and cycling tours along the beach to Tassi Savannah Camp during the dry season. Some have spotted the surfing hippos along the way!
Like the previous two camps, Tassi Savannah Camp is simple, has five two-bedded tents, and is surrounded by primary and secondary forest with wide-open vistas not often found in densely forested Central Africa.
Loango is one of the last few places on earth where large mammals can still roam freely on the beach. Many of the Gabonese beaches provide a significant habitat for migrant shorebirds, including African skimmers and Damara terns, whose numbers are quickly diminishing across the rest of Africa. Here, during the rainy season, buffaloes and forest elephants can often be found grazing on the coastal grasslands and on the beach. Occasionally, families of gorillas can also be spotted foraging in the trees alongside the beach. From here, you can hop in a 4×4 and visit the research camp of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Tassi Sud, 30 minutes from Tassi Savannah Camp and where researchers go into the forest to carry out studies among the shy and elusive gorillas and chimpanzees.
What They Are Doing
Loango Lodge remains the main base for numerous programs coordinated by the Max Planck Institute and the Wildife Conservation Society. Research about apes, dwarf crocodiles, forest elephant, western lowland gorillas, marine turtles, and whales is conducted from the lodge, as are educational projects. From there they also coordinate the cleaning of beaches, park management, and illegal trawler control. More than 80 students are enrolled in the local village’s well-equipped school, which was built and is run by Africa’s Eden.
One of four recognized gorilla subspecies, the western lowland gorilla is classified as critically endangered on the 2008 IUCN red list. The entire subspecies could be wiped out in less than 70 years without prompt action. The mission of the Fernan-Vaz Gorilla Project, in partnership with SCD, is to apply a multidisciplinary approach towards curbing the bushmeat trade that is threatening the survival of the remaining great apes through advocacy, education, local development, conservation, education, research, responsible gorilla-conscious tourism, and law enforcement support.
Originally some orphaned gorillas were moved to the island with the hope of releasing them into the wild one day. Since this is not possible because they are too reliant on humans for survival, they now have a special role as gorilla ambassadors, and they are used for education and raising global awareness of the gorilla’s plight.
Since 2001, Africa’s Eden and its partners have invested over 15 million euros in Gabon’s economy and has created more than 300 jobs. It has also contributed almost 3 million euros towards conservation and wildlife research, independently and through renowned conservation organizations.
In Their Own Words
“Gabon’s masks inspired artists such as Picasso and its music has arguably given birth to reggae and calypso, through the tragedy of the slave trade. Our guiding principal is to develop an experience that will move people to understand and care about the cultures and ecosystems they visit, allowing people to discover and learn about little known biological spectacles, whilst cultivating exchange between tourists and local cultures that have been profoundly affected by the forests they have evolved in, creating a product that is uniquely Gabonese.”