Jump to content

Recommended Posts

Anomalure

Hi all,

 

After a few years' gap I was fortunate to return to Africa with several friends this August on a truly amazing visit to Gabon. Our tour was organized by Guillermo Casasnovas of Middle Africa with Vianet Mihindou as local guide in the country. Mammals were the primary focus (as opposed to general safari tourism) and in this regard we were spectacularly successful, seeing around 58 species in 2 weeks (very impressive diversity for an African rainforest on its own). But what made the trip so special was not just the abundance, but the quality of the wildlife and sightings combined with an adventure in a remote and still pristine part of Africa. I've been back home for 2 months and still find myself dreaming about the country, and likely will for years. It was almost too good to be true.

 

Here's a friend's liberally-illustrated report of the trip: http://www.mammalwatching.com/2018/10/22/central-gabon-2018/. One to sit down with and savor for a while.

 

The undisputed highlight was close-up (touching distance) sightings of not one, but two GIANT PANGOLINS!! But not far behind were Western Gorilla (twice), Chimpanzee (3x), Mandrill (twice!!), Red River Hog (3x), Forest Elephant, Black Colobus, Red-capped Mangabey, and Water Chevrotain, as well as a host of rare and little-known species that are hardly ever reported by scientists, let alone mammal watchers. All primates, except one group of Mandrills were unhabituated. Much of this success was due to our group having 4 thermal imagers (amazingly helpful for locating mammals in the dense forest), but also just sheer effort and field experience.

 

I spent about 2 weeks in the country, with an itinerary as follows:

2 nights Libreville/Hotel Tropicana (+day trip to Pongara NP)

4 nights Lope NP/Lope Hotel (+guided mammal watching excursions day and night, Mandrill tracking)

4 nights Mikongo/Mikongo Camp (guided by Ghislain Ngonga/'Mikongo Vision')

1 night Lope Hotel (in transit to Lambarene)

3 nights Lake Oguemoue/Tsam Tsam

1 night Libreville/Hotel Tropicana (+day trip to Akanda NP)

 

In terms of other sites, the most obvious choice would've been Loango which we skipped due to budget and time constraints. It's a very expensive park to visit and also takes a while to get to (either a charter flight or a 2-day trip by car and boat from Lambarene, with a night in Tsam Tsam in between). But I still have a nagging feeling we missed out, as it seems like a really wild and beautiful place (though I suppose we wouldn't have seen any new mammal species). We skipped Langoue Bai (also expensive and difficult to access) as many of us have visited Dzanga Sangha, much better for the key targets Forest Elephant and Western Gorilla.

 

I'll provide some very brief details on the sites visited below, with some notes on accommodation for anyone planning a trip. Thanks to @inyathi for his generous advice while planning this trip.

 

Libreville

 

I stayed at the Hotel Tropicana which is hardly luxurious, but functional enough and on the beach (so pretty sunsets, but not sure how clean the beach itself is). The rooms are serviceable and the food actually surprisingly good, as long as you eat meat (expect slim pickings for vegetarians everywhere in the country). Note that there is a nightclub next door and it sometimes gets noisy...

 

If you are into primates, Akanda NP is worth a visit to see the remarkably tiny Northern Talapoin (very reliable); but expect to spend an hour crawling around muddy mangroves. African Manatee is common at certain times of the day, but you'd need to overnight at the ranger station to have the best chance which I'm not sure is possible (and based on my time there would be very, very buggy).

 

Lope NP

 

Lope Hotel is nice enough, but service and facilities were rather inconsistent—once we were flatly refused dinner when we arrived at dining a bit later than other guests and hot water is sporadic at best. The setting is gorgeous, with great views over the rapids on the Ogooue River and food decent (when present; you often have to repeatedly remind the wait staff to get your food, and make sure it's what you ordered...). It's not geared for wildlife viewing, but Vianet used his connections in the park (worked there for 5+ years) to set up night drives and long walks in the forest patches for us. Previous visitors reported lackluster guiding, but our ranger Edwin and driver Keita were both excellent, willing to stay out for long hours and genuinely fascinated by the array of strange and inconspicuous bats, mice, anomalures, and more we were picking out with our thermal imagers as well as the Leopards, Chimpanzees, Elephants, etc.

 

Mandrill tracking is back and functional thanks to the researcher, David Lehmann, but the animals are usually rather skittish, in dense vegetation, and always moving. Don't expect long views or photos of the large and impressive males. The vegetation in the areas we focused on in the SEGC was hilly forest-savanna mosaic. Day walks and drives yielded Chimpanzee (twice), Western Gorilla (once), Forest Elephant (50% of drives), Forest Buffalo (omnipresent), Red River Hog (once driving, once walking), Harnessed Bushbuck, Bay and Blue Duiker (common), and several monkey, squirrel, and bat species. Night drives (aided by 4 thermal imagers) were a privilege, with multiple sightings of Leopard, Servaline Genet, dozens of Blue Duikers, Ogilby's and Peters' Duikers, African Palm Civets, Beecroft's Anomalure, Gabon Squirrel Galago, Greater Cane Rat, Zebra Mouse, and more small stuff. A few of my friends also had a good sighting of Yellow-backed Duiker while tracking Mandrills (they sometimes follow Mandrills). Amazingly, excepting Sitatunga (rarely seen in the dry when controlled burning occurs), we saw pretty much all medium and large mammals that can be expected here—37 mammal species in just 4 nights! I came to this park with low-ish expectations based on others' comments and was seriously impressed.

 

As a postscript, an attempt to set up Red River Hog radio-tracking as a tourist activity is ongoing (it was temporarily suspended during our trip, but thankfully we saw hogs by other means). Also, there are plans in place to GPS-tag a Giant Pangolin for research and tourism purposes (the hope is for tourists to be able to view it, likely for a hefty fee). These two activities might be available as soon as next summer, in addition to the Mandrill tracking.

 

Mikongo

 

Mikongo Vision is a local guide service led by Ghislain Ngonga based out of the now-abandoned ZSL tourist camp at Mikongo. This is a site on the eastern border of Lope NP, in pure tall rainforest. Access is by ~2 hour drive from Lope village, the first hour or so on the bone-jarring and very dusty RN1 followed by 40 min on a narrow, brushy jeep track. Access would be tricky to impossible in the wet season. You sleep on (sometimes nasty) mattresses under tents or mosquito nets in the now open, bare bones research station buildings. No wifi, electricity, or running water; pit toilet and you can use the small river near camp for bathing. Food is monotonous and basic; mostly out of cans. Ghislain sometimes tends to run on his own schedule and was several hours late picking us up (though this may be more due to his at times uncooperative drivers). But none of that matters; the wildlife is worth it. Ghislain is an exceptional guide, one of those rare people who knows the forest and its wildlife like the back of his hand but remains very modest and talks relatively little. We were all impressed by his spotting skills and uncanny ability to track down one target species after another, practically upon request!

 

Dayhikes got us Chimpanzee, Mandrill (20+ wild animals, totally unexpected), Ogilby's and Bay Duikers, Biafran Palm and African Giant Squirrels, fantastic groups of Black Colobus (amazing looking and sounding!), Crowned Guenon, and the common monkeys (all seen very well, usually in the open at close range); heard Western Gorilla twice, at close range but didn't really try to see it. Gorillas can be tracked down on request by Ghislain if you have a couple of days. Night walks yielded Giant Pangolin (thanks to exceptional work by Ghislain at a site where he saw one 1 month ago; at touching distance), Water Chevrotain (just stunning, 3 meters away on the riverbank!!), Red River Hog (an atmospheric encounter with much snorting and rooting in the dark forest), Lord Derby's and Dwarf Anomalures, Long-eared Flying Mouse, Cameroon Scaly-tail, Edwards' Potto, and more Blue and Bay Duikers etc. Others also saw African Brush-tailed Porcupine and Spotted-necked Otter. So many rare species... what a place!! After a lot of searching in Foret des Abeilles (E of the Offoue River) on our last day, we eventually saw the extremely localized, endemic, and elusive Sun-tailed Guenon quite well.

 

Would highly encourage more tourists to visit this site, as Ghislain wants to improve the accommodation but needs more funding. Though bear in mind that for now, conditions are very basic and sometimes a bit rough. Black-footed Mongoose occasionally visits the camp clearing at night and Ghislain has seen African Golden Cat a couple of times on the entrance road, but sightings of the latter especially are very unlikely. Picathartes should still be around, but most of us who would’ve been interested already saw it in Cameroon or CAR so we didn’t ask. We saw African Dwarf Crocodile in the small river, and Rhinoceros Viper should be common (we never saw one).

 

Tsam Tsam

 

Tsam Tsam is a very nice and comfortable camp with great authentic Gabonese food, an excellent community-run project worth supporting. Though admittedly it's more an eco-retreat than a wildlife viewing site. The founders and hosts, Cyrile and Heather, are involved an NGO called OELO, which promotes ecotourism and sustainable development in lakes and marshes of the inland delta of the Ogooue. There is some degree of poaching in the area so wildlife viewing is hard work--if you want large mammal sightings, better go to Loango. But this site may be better for some of the smaller species, due to the freedom to explore at night by boat.

 

Hippo (some of the last in Gabon) is usually seen on the boat ride in from Lambarene and you'll likely also see Sitatunga. Beautiful Red-capped Mangabeys are very common and relaxed, usually seen foraging on the shores of secluded inlets. We got very lucky and saw Western Gorilla (a silverback no less) distantly in a savanna. Hammer Bats are easy to find around camp, and you'll certainly hear the loud, distinctive calls. Night boat trips yielded Marsh Mongoose, African Palm Civet, and Blotched Genet; Water Chevrotain is regular but we didn't see it here. Vermiculated Fishing Owl (common), Rosy Bee-eater, and Slender-snouted Crocodile (at a small lake ~1.5 hike away) were also very nice to see.

 

Wet season visits are apparently better for Forest Elephant and Buffalo, when they are often seen on a nearby savanna (an overnight viewing tower may be installed in the future). Overall a very peaceful, relaxing, pretty spot to wrap up the trip; facilities are a bit basic—no wifi or electricity, bucket showers. It’s worth mentioning that a night walk with Cyrile got us a second Giant Pangolin sighting (in an area with lots of feeding sign), but this maybe a one-time thing as Heather is very nervous about night walks here due to likelihood of dangerous elephant encounters.

 

----

So that just about covers my trip! Feel free to ask any questions.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
kittykat23uk

Yeah I saw this report on mammalwatching.com I'd be interested to know about the costs. I was sad not to see photosof all the birds though! I can't imagine only looking at the mammals, but GIANT PANGOLIN!!!!! Just Wow!!!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
offshorebirder

@Anomalure - I saw in the Mammalwatching.com trip report that your party had good results using thermal scopes.   Can you recommend any brands/models?

 

I have an upcoming trip to southeast Arizona in May and that seems like one could help us locate nocturnal mammals (and perhaps nocturnal birds).  

 

Edited by offshorebirder

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sangeeta

Oh wow, @Anomalure - very, very cool sightings. We are following in your footsteps next year, but with the addition of both Langoué Bai and Loango. However no Mikongo :(

 

Did you say they were planning in radio tracking Giant Pangolin in Lopé? Wow.

 

I am also interested in hearing more about the thermal scopes - we should definitely ensure that we have a couple of these in the group too. 

 

The leopards were in Lopé?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
offshorebirder

I must admit though, the Mammalwatching trip report has cured me of wanting to visit Gabon.   

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sangeeta

That was an amazing report on mammalwatching, @Anomalure

 

So excited about our trip now - yay!

 

For anyone interested in joining us, we have a couple of spots left on our group 2. Feel free to PM me, but with Ivindo and Loango and whales included, it is sadly not an inexpensive trip :(

 

@michael-ibk - yes, this does indeed sound like the Akanda group!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Anomalure

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Hoping to see more Gabon reports in the next few years.

 

@kittykat23uk I'll PM you the costs, which I thought were pretty reasonable compared to my CAR trip 3 years ago. I'm not much of a birder but was still really enjoyed the Vermiculated Fishing Owls!

 

@offshorebirder Re thermal scopes, I use the Pulsar Quantum Lite XQ23V, which I'm quite happy with. I have friends who use the XQ30 and say great things as well. I'd recommend either of these models if your purpose is trying to spot elusive, nocturnal mammals/birds in dense cover. On this trip, we'd have probably missed 75+% of the smaller, nocturnal stuff as well as duikers etc. without the scopes.

 

@Sangeeta Thanks! And sounds like a brilliant trip you have planned. Would recommend trying to arrange at least a night in Mikongo if you can manage it--the wildlife is really worth it, despite the rough conditions.

 

The Leopards were in Lope; we had a total of 3 sightings--1 adult+2 cubs walking along the road (>1 min) on a night drive, an adult crouched right next to the road (>30s views) on a night drive, and a brief glimpse of an adult crossing a road at dusk while returning from a bat cave. Day walks and drives and night drives at Lope were amazingly productive for other stuff too.

 

And yes, David Lehmann intends to start a Giant Pangolin radio tracking research/tourism activity in Lope. His plan is to GPS tag one at the end of the year (he has already identified a suitable individual and knows its ranging patterns), and hopes for the project to be ready for tourists before next summer. I think the plan is to walk out to the site at dusk (using the radio-tracker to figure out the location of the burrow, as they switch burrows frequently) and stake out the burrow until the pangolin emerges. After observing the animal, you walk back to the vehicle, stopping at a small river along the way where African Dwarf Crocodiles are common.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sangeeta

@Anomalure Thanks so much for sharing all this info - we can hardly wait!  :wub: 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
gatoratlarge
50 minutes ago, Sangeeta said:

Did you say they were planning in radio tracking Giant Pangolin in Lopé? Wow.

 

I am also interested in hearing more about the thermal scopes - we should definitely ensure that we have a couple of these in the group too. 

 

The leopards were in Lopé?

My thinking exactly!!! :D As usual @Sangeetayou're a step ahead!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sangeeta

We lucked out with @Anomalure here, @gatoratlarge :D

Now to organize the scopes and the pangolins! My goodness, my hands are shaking already!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
gatoratlarge

@Sangeeta it's hard to get perspective on their size but the guide's hands on the tail were eye popping!!! And a water chevrotain???  That's a lifer right there too...hope we can do a little night-seeing...a potto would be interesting too :)

 

Edited by gatoratlarge

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Anomalure

@Sangeeta @gatoratlarge FYI Giant Pangolin is the size of a medium-sized dog and built like a tank. Seriously impressive!! Even if you can't get to Mikongo, I should mention that both Water Chevrotain and Giant Pangolin are very possible in Lope (besides the radio-tracking option I mentioned earlier). My guide Vianet (who worked in Lope for 7 years as a surveyor/researcher) for example had seen Giant Pangolin several times while driving at night in the park (in fact he saw one on his first night drive in the park!!).

 

Also a very noteworthy location you should know and focus on in the park... In Lope along one of the game drive routes, there is a rickety wooden bridge over a small river in a forest patch. All the park guides should know about it. During our trip, we were told that a group of birders (last year??) had seen Water Chevrotain and Giant Pangolin while staking out the bridge on the same night. As a result, we spent time in that area all 3 nights we did night drives, driving that stretch of the road through the forest patch repeatedly and walking/waiting around the bridge. We weren't as lucky as those birders, but did see many Blue Duikers and African Palm Civets, Gabon Squirrel and Demidoff's Galagos, Beecroft's Anomalure, Lorrain Dormouse, and more so it's a very productive area for night work. One person in our group waded a short way up the river and also had a possible Chevrotain sighting too.

 

Not sure if Pottos are in Lope as we never saw one there, but I'm sure they're in Ivindo in the tall forest there. You could try asking permission to do a night walk at Langoue, or maybe see if you can visit Ipassa Reserve for a night (near Makokou), where they are very common.

Edited by Anomalure

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
inyathi

@Anomalure Fantastic! so glad I could help.

 

I don’t know whether to be really pleased about the success of this trip or after seeing the photos seriously envious of all the amazing mammals that I missed, not that I would complain about what I saw. However, as a bit of a monkey man seeing sun-tailed guenon, northern talapoin and mandrills, that does turn me a good shade of green with envy, well that and those mythical beasts otherwise known as pangolins. I’m very impressed with all the nocturnal stuff you saw, I really didn’t get to go at night very much at all, @Sangeeta it would be worth asking if you can go out at night at Langoue but I rather suspect you won’t be able to, when I was there they were always very keen that we were back from the bai and out of the forest before dark because of the danger of walking into forest elephants, I don’t imagine that’s changed. It seems that you really need to make the most of going out at night in Lope where you are in a vehicle.

 

It's great that Mikongo Camp is still being made use of, but zooming in on that photo it looks like it's in a very sorry state compared to how it was when it was in operation as a proper camp and I stayed there, it looks like the roofs need some serious attention. I've only ever read good things about Ghislain and I hadn't actually thought about it until I started typing this, that I may well have met him and even been guided by him, when I visited Mikongo in 2008, he must have been working there at the time, but I don't recall the names of our Gabonese guides, whatever the case I do hope that he succeeds in improving Mikongo and getting back to be a bit more like it was when ZSL were running it. I hope your report here and Jon Hall's will stoke further interest in Gabon and that you have an equally successful trip Sangeeta and that Gabon will make a proper return to the African tourist map. 

Edited by inyathi

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sangeeta

@inyathi, you were the Pied Piper for our trip too & I’ve got my fingers crossed that all our trips can help shine more light on Gabon.

I will ask about night visits at Langoué, but I suspect you’re right, there is too much ele activity for it to be safe. We might be able to do some nocturnal stuff at Akaka, perhaps.

When we planned this trip, @Kitsafari, @SafariChick and I were dreaming of mandrills and red river hogs.

Today, though, I’m dreaming of giant pangolins :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
SafariChick

@Sangeeta let's all dream big! (Giant even!)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
optig

@Sangeeta @SafariChick@Kitsafari I know that this will be just an awesome trip. I can hardly wait!1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Monkey Mad Matt

amazing trip and report. jealous doesnt cover mandrills, giant pangolins and talapoins! might dm you about costs if you dont mind.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
optig

I am wondering if i should spend the  considerable amount of money for a night scope. I am wondering if I'll be making enough night drives both in Gabon and the Central African Republic to justify the expense. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Atravelynn
On 11/17/2018 at 3:26 AM, optig said:

I am wondering if i should spend the  considerable amount of money for a night scope. I am wondering if I'll be making enough night drives both in Gabon and the Central African Republic to justify the expense. 

Can you rent that equipment instead of buying it?  I would think there would be safari rental operations near you.

 

The pangolin possibilities are very tantalizing.  And this is too: "an attempt to set up Red River Hog radio-tracking as a tourist activity is ongoing."

 

Dream on those of you going to Gabon soon.  Thank you @Anomalure for this excitng report.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This topic is quite old. Unless updating a photographic thread with new images, please consider starting a new discussion. Thank you.

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

Safaritalk uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By using Safaritalk you agree to our use of cookies. If you wish to refuse the setting of cookies you can change settings on your browser to clear and block cookies. However, by doing so, Safaritalk may not work properly and you may not be able to access all areas. If you are happy to accept cookies and haven't adjusted browser settings to refuse cookies, Safaritalk will issue cookies when you log on to our site. Please also take a moment to read the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy: Terms of Use l Privacy Policy