In the Footsteps of Elephants - 
Gabon, May 2011

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Gabon is a country blessed with huge areas of pristine wilderness and an exciting diversity of wildlife, yet it is little visited. We spent two weeks exploring some of the more accessible wildlife watching locations. This is our concise photo report of this memorable trip. There is also a more detailed diary with more photos.

Rainforest in the Parc de la Lékédi (in south-east Gabon, near the border with Congo) overhanging a flooded river valley, created many years ago by the construction of a causeway for manganese extraction. The raised water level created many islands in the river.


Scary bridges were mandatory. The wire one on the left was very wobbly, but had been crossed by the president himself and, with his seal of approval, there was no turning back! The liana bridge, near Franceville, felt much more secure, although it crossed the raging torrent of the Oogue River, the biggest in Gabon.


The first big mammals we saw were forest buffalo. Smaller, redder and less aggressive than their savannah counterparts, they swarmed with ox-peckers feasting on ticks and other blood-sucking insects.  Could we tame one please, to deal with the mosquitoes?


Red river-hogs are spectacular critters. We saw only their footprints and mud wallows in the wild – these guys were prisoners for display to tourists.


Meet Djino, born August 2006, sadly orphaned and now rehabilitated with two friends on an island in the flooded river valley. Western lowland gorilla males develop a very fetching red hair cap. He’s going to be a handsome dude when full grown.


Djino was a star performer. Maybe he can get a part in a movie! But at times he looked very contemplative – was he thinking about his long lost mum? Or maybe he was day-dreaming of an ape-girl and how he would impress her with his climbing skills.


The three small chimps on the left, also orphans, were in a large compound where they would be safe from wild chimps in the surrounding forest. The other guys were now living on one of the large river islands, but are still fed with regular supplies of bananas.


Chimps are our nearest surviving relatives. Some look like quite charming ladies and gentlemen: others look like grumpy old bastards.


Mrs Mandrill is an elegant baboon with long, sensitive fingers, but beware her fearsome set of teeth. Note the youngster’s cute punky hairstyle. The young male at the top is learning how to display his little pink willy to best effect.



Mr Mandrill is a stunner! And with a bum like that, who needs a pretty face? This troop of mandrills was truly wild, although some wore radio-tracking collars and they were habituated with the aid of sacks full of bananas.

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Setté-Cama borders on the Loango National Park, set between the Atlantic beach and a labyrinthine lagoon. Dense forest, sometimes fringed with mangroves, crowds around the creeks where manatees spend their secret lives.


Hippos are famously known to surf in the sea here, but we saw them only in the lagoon. In the heat of the day, forest elephants emerge to snorkel in the cooling waters of the lagoon.


Bird-watching in the dense forest was challenging and we had better views of many spectacular birds around our lodge: Woodland kingfisher (top left), Giant kingfisher (top right), malimbes building  astonishing nests like woven grass retorts (bottom left) and a sunbird (bottom right)



Every house, no matter how remote, has its obligatory satellite dish. How else to keep up with the football results? A visit to a small fishing village to buy dried, salt fish. The price was fixed, but without scales there was long haggling over the weight, while mama smoked her pipe and the guys played music.



We did two walks each day in the forest, amounting to six hours a day. The long rainy season had ended, so the going was good. Some of the trees were awesome, as was the elephant tooth we found.

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What’s that on the left? A forest elephant in the forest! Luckily, she ran first. The habitat is actually a mosaic of forest, savannah and waterways.

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In over a week of walking, we saw no human footprints other than our own! The paths we followed were made by elephant, buffalo and sitatunga. Most of the time we walked in the footsteps of elephants. Meeting them on foot was exhilarating. Here’s a mum and her hairy little babe.


Forest elephants are now known to be a different species than the savannah elephants; they are found only in the dense forest habitats of West Africa. The matriarchal family group on the left had smelled us and were running for cover, the lone bull on the right was more self-confident.

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They keep mostly in, or very close to, dense cover, but the big tusker on the right was on the beach. Hide behind a tree if one charges, our guide advised. But there are no trees on the beach…


 All photos and content © Maren Reichelt & Mick Baines