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western lowland gorillas

One rainforest animal that people find most fascinating is the gorilla. Adult males (silverbacks that have a swath of silver hair on their backs and large crests on their heads) weigh about 150 kilograms and are twice the size of adult females. Western lowland gorillas live in social groups consisting of one silverback, several adult females, and their offspring. Silverbacks protect their females and offspring from other gorilla groups, predators, and other threats. Gorillas are vegetarian, with their diet consisting of fruit, leaves, and herbaceous vegetation. Their daily routine consists of feeding for a few hours, resting, feeding, resting, during which they will move several kilometers distance through their 25 km2 home range. Gorillas do not have set territories, but groups have overlapping home ranges.  Western gorillas spend as much as 30% of their time in the trees, making them much more arboreal than mountain gorillas. Social interactions among gorillas include resting together, grooming, and play by the infants and juveniles. Western gorillas have very long developmental periods, with adult females not giving birth until they are 12 years of age and males reaching maturity when they are 18 years old.

Loango National Park is one of only a few places where it is possible to see habituated, wild western lowland gorillas. One group of gorillas, the Atananga Group, is habituated for both tourism and research.  Despite gorillas being the largest primate species, it is difficult to see them in forest because they are naturally afraid of humans and typically will flee or aggressively charge if people get too close to them.  Gorillas that are visited by people have undergone ‘habituation’. This refers to the process, where through daily peaceful contact with humans, gorillas have slowly lost their strong fear of humans and have learned to view them as neutral beings in their environment. The Atananga Group has been habituated since 2014, with tourism beginning in 2016.

Visiting the habituated gorillas in Loango National Park is a unique experience. Tourist visits in Loango are limited to one group of 4 people per day, three days per week.  We maintain a minimum distance of 7m between the gorillas and people at all times. These rules are designed to minimize the impact that humans have on the gorillas.

The best time to visit the gorillas in Loango is January – May, when they do not travel very much per day.  During the dry season (June – August), the gorillas travel a lot, moving between fruiting trees and the swamps, making it the most difficult time to visit them. The gorillas move through the forest in an unpredictable way so we cannot know in advance exactly where we will find them. Therefore, it may take several hours of hiking before you see the gorillas. Hiking in the forest is likely to include walking through mud, small streams, and swamps so expect to get wet and muddy. It is necessary to be physically fit to visit the gorillas. Please book your gorilla visit in advance to ensure availability.

The western gorilla program in Loango National Park is a collaboration between the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany) and the Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux Gabonese (ANPN).  Research conducted on the gorillas focuses on understanding their social behavior, feeding ecology, and population dynamics. Western gorilla behavior and ecology is dramatically different from that of their cousins, the mountain gorillas. Western gorillas are critically endangered as they face major threats of poaching, habitat loss, and risk of disease.  Research and tourism work hand-in-hand to increase our knowledge about gorillas and contribute to their conservation.

Quotes from our Guestbook .

“What a memorable place.”.... David & Audrey Perissey 

‘I hope I can return to this majestic place.”…….Stacey Roberts

“The wildlife here is beautiful.”..... Michelle Rodriguez

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