Despite twenty-five years in Africa, I’d never had the opportunity to see the western lowland gorilla in the wild. Recently, Wilderness Safaris, the South Africa-based tourism company, developed a new destination in Odzala National Park in the Republic of Congo to enable visitors to see these endangered apes, forest elephants and other unique wildlife characteristic of the Congo basin, and to bring some of the benefits of the responsible tourism industry to the parks and people of this country.
The chance to observe lowland gorillas in the wild, complete with guides, accommodations, cuisine, and service provided at a Wilderness Safaris standard is an opportunity too good to miss. Not just for me, but for many of the Trustees of AWF, who are just as adventurous as I am in wanting to experience different parts of Africa.
The Odzala experience is both intimate and exotic. Wilderness has built two camps of only six chalets each. The design of the chalets, made up of wood and thatch is inspired by the architecture of the local Batwa pygmies who inhabit the forest.
Odzala is a park where much of the wildlife has been depleted by hunting and poaching. The African Parks organization is managing the park on behalf of the government, and with support from the European Union. With strong management, there is every reason to believe that wildlife numbers can rebound. Almost immediately we started seeing primates along the road—black and white colobus and putty nosed monkeys. We would pull over whenever an experienced eye saw the top branches of trees swaying, but before long we realized darkness might fall before we arrived in camp. And we had to put our cameras and binoculars away and finish the journey.
AWF’s CEO Patrick Bergin recently had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit western lowland gorillas. In these blogs, he takes you back to his journey through the Congo.
Photo by Shana Laursen