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
Patrick found his love for Africa while serving in the Peace Corps in Tanzania and initially joined African Wildlife Foundation as a Community Conservation Project Officer in 1990. Within AWF, Patrick has pioneered initiatives that forge linkages between conservation and human well-being. Patrick was appointed Chief Executive Officer in 2002 and under his leadership, AWF has seen significant growth and change, including the formulation of AWF’s successful large-landscape approach to conservation, the establishment of our Nairobi-based headquarters, internationalization of AWF’s Board of Trustees, and a tripling of AWF’s operating budget. Patrick holds an M.S. in the management of extension systems from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Ph.D. in development from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. He also serves on the Advisory Council to the Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking.
AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.