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Ivindo National Park - A view from our expert author


The highlights of Ivindo, southwest of Makokou, are the spectacular waterfalls of Koungou, Mingouli and Djidji.

Waterfall Ivindo National Park Gabon by Jefe le GranThe highlights of Ivindo, southwest of Makokou, are the spectacular waterfalls of Koungou, Mingouli and Djidji. These impressive falls, with a drop of over 60m, are the highest in equatorial Africa and of great spiritual value to local people. The Koungou Falls have countless smaller and larger streams, steps and cascades. Smaller islands divide the falls; there are even separate trees growing in the falls – waterfall and the rainforest are intermingled.

In recent years the Koungou Falls have faced the threat of the construction of a hydro-electric dam to supply power to the Belinga mine some 100km north up the Ivindo River. If the dam had been fully constructed, it would have flooded large areas of forest, risking the displacement of local communities and opening up the park to increased poaching and illegal logging. A successful campaign halted the construction of the dam.

(Photo: One of the many waterfalls found in this national park © Jefe le Gran)

A pirogue trip through the forest to the falls provides plenty of opportunities to glimpse birds, monkeys and hippos. More than 430 species of bird, including large concentrations of African grey parrots, are recorded as living in the Ivindo Basin, making it one of the most rewarding bird-spotting regions in Africa. The park includes the 10,000ha Ipassa Reserve, one of Africa’s first protected areas, located directly southwest of Makokou. Incredibly, logging has never been allowed in the Ipassa Reserve (unfortunately that doesn’t mean that hunting isn’t a problem). The Institute for Research in Tropical Ecology (IRET) has been here since the early 1970s, and at its peak there were 100 researchers. Research still continues today, but on a much smaller scale.

Around 15km further south is Langoué Bai, a place of unparalleled beauty. The bai, which is the Pygmy word for forest clearing, is approximately 1km by 300m wide. It was discovered in 2000 by biologist Mike Fay during his epic Megatransect and now houses the Langoué Bai research camp, established by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which monitors wildlife in the park. Langoué Bai’s mineral waters lure animals, above all elephants, out from under the cover of the forest to feed on the nourishing saline soil. The elephants keep the bai clear and maintained by digging in its mineral-rich soils, creating a magnet for gorillas and other mammals. The bai is the most reliable place in Gabon to see gorillas, and chances are highest in the dry season (December–January and May–July).

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