Elephant in Loango National Park, Gabon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
A renowned ecotourism lodge will re-open in Gabon’s Loango National Park more than a year after it suspended operations due to a dispute with authorities over flight access to the region.
Loango Lodge will re-open December 15 after its owner, Africa’s Eden, and its sister company SCD Aviation came to an agreement with civil aviation authorities. SCD Aviation is a regional airline charter company that provides transport to tourists from Gabon’s capital city Libreville to the park.
Africa’s Eden says the lodge and satellite camps will be upgraded prior to the re-opening. It adds that its operations employ 130 local people, making it the areas biggest employer.
Loango National Park is famous for its diversity of habitats and species. The park includes rainforests, savannas, wetlands, and white-sand beaches and houses lowland gorillas, forest elephants, important sea turtle nesting sites, and chimpanzees. Loango might be best known for its population of hippos which have been photographed by National Geographic “surfing” in ocean waves.
Silverback gorilla in Loango
Over the years the lodge and its satellite camps have provided support to several scientific expeditions and research sites, including programs run by the Max Planck Institute, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Loango National Park was a key part of former president Omar Bongo Ondimba’s vision of turning Gabon into the “Costa Rica of Central Africa”, helping it diversify its economy which is heavily dependent on extraction of natural resources, including crude oil. As part of that effort Bongo established a network of 13 national parks in 2002.
But Gabon’s ecotourism has been slow to develop and initial enthusiasm has waned, calling into question the government’s commitment to protected areas. The reopening of Loango’s major ecotourism operator may now give a much needed boost to the sector.