May Program Meeting: Gabon--Africa’s Eden with Bob Fleming and Jim Regali
GABON, straddling the equator on the western coast of Africa, is part of the Congo Rainforest Biome. With some 80% of the nation covered in forest, Gabon was thrust into an enviable position in African conservation when in 2002 president Bongo inaugurated 13 national parks.
In July 2015 Jim Regali and Bob Fleming journeyed with eight others to Lope and Loango National Parks in search of West African specialties including Forest Elephants, Red River Hogs, Black-headed Bee-eaters, Vegetarian Vultures (Palm Nut Vultures), and Slender-billed Crocodiles.
With so much of the country in forest, the variety of habitats in Gabon is limited, but there is the Atlantic seaboard as well as rolling grasslands towards the eastern interior (Lope National Park is a good example) and, in the extreme south, the Bateke Plateau savanna rises near the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The bird list for Gabon numbers about 450 species and consists mostly of residents. Other species are those that move around within Africa as well as winter visitors, escapees from the Palearctic cold. Some species are rare and very localized (Rosy Bee-eaters and the African River Martins) while others are wide ranging (Pied Kingfishers also occurs in Asia). Interestingly, certain birds considered rather rare in other parts of Africa, including the Palm Nut Vulture and the Giant Kingfisher, were surprisingly common along riverbanks in Loango National Park.
The mammal list for Gabon is extensive and the Loango National Park area has been described as Africa’s Eden. It certainly is Eden for Forest Elephants, a species with rather straight, yellowish tusks and with only four toes per foot (Savanna Elephants boast five). Portions of the park are seasonally flooded, thus supporting splendid swaths of papyrus and grasses on which the elephants feed.
On the other hand, the bushmeat trade still occurs in much of the country—mostly affecting animals outside the parks—and while hunting is gradually diminishing, large mammals (especially monkeys and apes) are so shy as to rarely afford a glimpse. However, in the two parks that Jim and Bob visited, the Forest Elephants and Red River Hogs were not unduly alarmed by the human presence. This was a good sign.
Over the past decades, Bob and Jim have visited various parts of Africa, and on May 24 they’ll present a natural history overview of one of Africa’s most amazing countries.
Reminder—there’s no program meeting in June. Happy birding!