Lopé-Okanda bears testament to the West African culture, biodiversity, archaeology, and geology of Gabon. The heritage site is recognized for both its natural and cultural values and is renowned as home to some of the world’s important and threatened mammal communities. As the only heritage site in Gabon, the property is the top tourist attraction in the country.
5. Description and History -
Located in central Gabon, the Lopé-Okanda Wildlife Reserve was established in 1946 and designated as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 2007. The site encompasses an ecosystem and cultural landscape. The Lopé National Park covers tracts of tropical rainforests and savanna grasslands, which are home to endangered and rare fauna. Archaeological evidence has proved that the site has been continuously inhabited for the last 400,000 years and scattered across the landscape are the remains of tools used in the Iron and Paleolithic Ages and rock carvings. The site derives its environmental significance from being home to significant populations of threatened forest mammals and exhibiting diversity in the flora and fauna present. The savanna grassland in the site is the last remaining in Central Africa from the last Ice Age.
4. Research and Education -
A research center is present in the park, and it is operated by the Zoological Society of London in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society. Behavioral studies of animal species such as apes, leopards and buffaloes are carried out in the center. A training center has been established to raise awareness and train African conservationists. The CEDAMM Training Center also conducts educational courses in the neighboring villages.
3. Archaeology and Culture -
The medieval relics which abound around the site’s hilltops, shelters, and caves reflect the ways of life of ancient African hunter-gatherer tribes. Remnants of tools bear witness to the iron-making culture in medieval Africa. The numerous archaeological sites have provided insight on the early domestication of plants and animals as well as the earliest date for the extension of Tshitolien culture headed towards the Atlantic. The River Ogooué Valley, situated on the property, was a chief migration route in medieval Africa.
2. Natural Uniqueness and Biodiversity -
The site represents a unique transitional zone between forest and savanna environments, and presents a timeline of continuous ecological processes wherein flora, fauna, and habitats have adapted to post-glacial climatic conditions. The site boasts in diverse animal and plant species, a result of the long-term interactions between humanity and the environment and natural and ecological processes. Found on the site is the more than 1,550 plant species, with 40 species not present anywhere else in the country. Wild primates abound on the property, including mandrills, sun-tailed monkey, and western lowland gorillas alongside forest elephants, buffaloes, leopards, and black colobus monkeys. Bird species includes the black guinea fowls, emerald cuckoos, grey-necked rock fowls and chocolate-backed kingfishers.
1. Threats and Conservation Efforts -
The site’s integrity is threatened by various factors. First among them is the rampant poaching targeted at such iconic species such as gorillas, elephants, buffaloes, and chimpanzees. Commercial and illegal logging has had negative impacts on the rainforests. Other threats are an agricultural expansion, wood harvesting, invasive species and the road and railway corridors. The site is managed by Gabon’s national park management authority. The authority is faced with challenges such as a well-organized poaching network and inadequate human and technical facilities. A management plan exists for the period from 2013 until 2017, and it is supported by several international donors.