Nouabalé-ndoki National Park

One place that holds hope is Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park. In its 1,544 square miles (4,000 km2) of lowland forest in the northern Congo Republic live western lowland gorillas—shorter-haired and with redder heads than eastern gorillas—elephants, chimpanzees, leopards, and over 300 bird species. Established and managed with help from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Columbus Zoo, Brevard Zoo, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and others, programs have been started to protect the forest and its inhabitants not only directly but indirectly by educating and informing local people about benefits of ecotourism both to the reserve and to local communities.

Parts of Ndoki’s dark, humid, almost inaccessible tropical forest still are not fully explored, but what has been found is extraordinary. One swampy 32-acre (13-ha) clearing alone—Mbeli Bai—is the gathering place of as many as 180 western lowland gorillas along with a number of monkey species—striking black-and-white and red colobus; moustached and crowned guenon monkeys; agile and gray-cheeked mangabeys; and others. Nine monkey species share the forest in densities of up to 50 per square mile.

Forest elephants are here, clearing woodland passageways and openings for others—dwarf forest buffalo, water-loving sitatunga antelopes, shy, striped bongos, stealthy leopards and golden cats, and rare blue duikers. These tiny forest antelopes, horned and weighing 12 pounds tops (5.4 kg), may number up to 100 per square mile. Here perhaps, according to Pygmy legend, is Mokélé-mbembé, legendary long-necked Congo basin reptile said to have a single massive frontal horn used to kill elephants.

Mahogany trees are so shrouded with vines and ferns their tops are invisible. Parrots are mostly heard and briefly glimpsed as they fly through the 150-foot-high (45-m) canopy, along with bats dipping down occasionally for an insect that can make a full meal—a six-inch (15.2- cm) mantis or nine-inch (23-cm) walking-stick.

According to National Geographic Society, Ndoki may have more wildlife per square mile than anyplace else in Africa, a continent renowned for remarkable wildlife assemblages.

In a landmark agreement in 2001 the German logging firm, Congolaise Industrielle des Bois (C.I.B.), voluntarily gave up leases on the adjoining 100-square-mile (259-km2) Goualougo Triangle so it could be added to Nouabalé-Ndoki, and pledged to curb hunting by crews on its other leases. Just to the south, trees exploited for logging average more than 200 years old.

Ndoki is buffered now by underbrush-tangled swamps on the south and further protected by biting, stinging, blood-sucking, illness-carrying insects. It adjoins two smaller reserves in the Central African Republic, DZANGA-NDOKI PARK and DZANGA-SANGHA DENSE FOREST RESERVE. Still, these obstacles can be no match for determined exploiters with modern-day equipment. Limited visitation is part of future plans, partly to build a local constituency for protecting Ndoki. These could include observation platforms erected for scientific observations near habituated primates at clearings and water holes.

A WCS campsite has been set up just outside Bombassa, about 62 miles (100 km) north of Ouesso. Interested travelers should check recent status with WCS office in Brazzaville, and be aware that visits to these wild places are not easy—perhaps involving motorized canoe, un-motorized canoe, and sometimes just slogging through swamps inhabited by snakes and crocodiles.

Conkouati National Park
is the country’s most diverse protected area, 1,947 square miles (5,045km2) of habitat ranging from a sea turtle reserve off the Atlantic coast through savannah to mountainous zones of the Mayombian forest. Inhabitants include manatees, whales, porpoises,forest elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, colorful mandrills, and forest buffalo.
Lac Télé in the north is the country’s only wetlands reserve, permanent or seasonal home to thousands of birds of more than 250 species. Habitat ranging from savannah through semi-deciduous dryland and permanently flooded forest supports western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, forest elephants, leopards, sitatungas, forest buffalo, otters, crocodiles, and many fish, including several endemic species—plus, guaranteed in its establishment, communities of 22 surrounding villages who live by subsistence hunting and resource extraction in the reserve.

Recent history of this west-central African country about 2.6 times the size of England (132,000square miles/342,000 km2) has been troubled with civil war, but was stabilized at least temporarily by a relatively calm election in 2002. The U.S. embassy was closed at that time and combined with that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in neighboring Kinshasa.

International visitors fly to Brazzaville which has hotels and car rentals and is connected by air as well as riverboat to Ouesso, near Nouabalé-Ndoki, also to Pointe-Noire and Libreville. Before planning a trip contact the WCS office in Brazzaville to determine current conditions and availability of logistical support.

Best times are dry-season June–September, also December–January when heavy rains let up a bit—but it’s equatorial so all year is hot and humid.

Leopards compete with larger predators, especially lions, so they like to cache prey in trees where lions don’t go. Powerful leg and neck muscles enable them to carry an adult antelope, chimpanzee or even young giraffe up to three times their weight for hundreds of yards to a safe place.

Leopards compete with larger predators, especially lions, so they like to cache prey in trees where lions don’t go. Powerful leg and neck muscles enable them to carry an adult antelope, chimpanzee or even young giraffe up to three times their weight for hundreds of yards to a safe place.

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Conkouati National Park

Lac Télé