Spot many rare bird species among the forested hills of Parc National de Moukalaba-Doudou.
Gabon’s third largest national park, the 503,000ha Moukalaba-Doudou is a rugged area with a diverse range of habitats, from tropical rainforest and grassy savannahs to papyrus swamps. Running between the Moukalaba River to the east and the Ndogo Lagoon to the west, the park also covers the Doudou Mountains. This is the largest mountain range in southwestern Gabon, reaching an altitude of approximately 700m. While the Doudou Mountains were logged from the 1960s until the 1980s, the area is now completely uninhabited.
With an estimated population of almost 5,000 chimpanzees and gorillas, Moukalaba-Doudou has some of the highest densities of primates in Gabon, making it one of the country’s most promising gorilla-tourism sites. The best time of the year to see primates is during the dry season, between June and September. Former logging sites are now abundant with succulent marantaceae plants, a major food source for gorilla as well as forest elephant and other species. Furthermore, the savannahs near Doussala are the only place in Gabon where herds of common cobe (waterbuck) are found. The park is also a remarkable area for birders; more than 380 species (many of them unique) have been spotted here, including the vermiculated fishing owl, black-backed barbet, black-headed batis, fiery-breasted bush-shrike, brown twinspot and some rare swallows.
The 4km2 of community-managed forest around the village of Doussala is home to several groups of gorilla. In collaboration with Kyoto University, the Institute for Research in Tropical Ecology (IRET), WWF and the ANPN, the local NGO PROGRAM is in charge of the habituation of gorilla groups for tourism development, and the habituation rangers have their permanent base at Douguetsi ranger station, about 6km southwest from Doussala. The project suffered a setback in 2017, when the primary habituation group’s silverback, Gentil, disappeared, leaving the group leaderless and prone to splintering. (Gentil is presumed to have died, but his body is yet to be found.) Encouragingly, most of the group have now reorganised under another silverback, Marcial, and habituation work with this reformulated group of 13 continues. Gorilla trekking visits are possible and, while accessing the park is not exactly easy, they are well worth the effort.
All excursions to the park depart from Tchibanga and must be arranged through an operator. Those who want to visit the park must be over 15, and trekking here requires good physical condition.
Local NGO PROGRAM (offices in Tchibanga & Quartier Louis in Libreville) is the main contact point for the park and can facilitate all visits. Arrangements must be made in advance to ensure that staff are ready to receive you – you’re likely to be the only visitors on any given day. The NGO’s mission is to protect the park’s great apes and support local communities in sustainable livelihood generation through community-based ecotourism. They organise gorilla trekking around Doussala and safaris to a camping site on the bank of the Mbani River, on the beautiful Mbani Plain. Experienced guides take visitors on walking tours deep in the forests. The safari to Moukalaba- Doudou is one of the most authentic rainforest experiences one could wish for – and therefore is unsuitable for people uncomfortable with basic living conditions. (Accommodation in Doussala, however, is simple but reasonably comfortable).
As is often the case in Gabon, trips to Moukalaba-Doudou are not especially cheap, though you can save a fair amount, particularly on transport, by travelling in a group. Park entry fees begin at 15,000/5,000CFA a day for foreigners/Gabon residents. Otherwise, prices depend on the number of people and the season. As an estimate, however, a night in either of the accommodation options in Doussala or at Mbani Camp respectively cost 30,000/15,000CFA per person, plus an additional 20,000CFA a day per person for meals. Guiding fees for gorilla tracking and other hikes are 30,000CFA a day to go with only the trackers, while it’s 50,000CFA a day to go with the trackers and an interpretive guide. A 10,000CFA donation to the village (if staying in Doussala) is also mandatory, but this payment is a oneoff. All profits go to the development of communities and ecotourism activities. Unforgettable, all-night displays of fiery traditional dancing and ceremony (such as Bwiti, Bilomba, Madanji and Njembé) can also be arranged in Doussala for an additional 100,000CFA, and make for a spectacular and genuinely uncontrived way to cap off a visit to the park. For a full list of PROGRAM’s offerings (in French) and prices, see here.
Tchibanga-based Back to Roots can also arrange all trips into the park, including gorilla tracking and other hikes, for broadly comparable prices.