Another trek to Doussala. In addition to being chauffeur for the voyage, I assist Angelique Todd to document and assess tourism readiness of Group Gentil, a family of gorillas studied and habituated over the past decade on the edge of Moukalaba-Doudou National Park, in south-central Gabon.
Angelique is the Great Ape Habituation and Tourism Coordinator for ANPN, the Agence National des Parcs Nationaux. She has been working with several families of gorillas habituated for scientific study in Moukalaba-Doudou and Loango National Parks.
The intention of this visit is to educate ecoguides and trackers on procedures for ensuring a safe and rewarding experience for tourists. In addition, I hope to document individual family members of the Group Gentil.
We spend our days in the forest, locating and following Group Gentil, while various trackers and guides arrive and leave, easing in and out of the family group as the gorillas feed, groom and sleep throughout their forest domain.
Our four days of forest activities add up to 25 hours of shared time with gorillas. We have walked approximately 50 kilometers through the forest and savanna landscape, most of the kilometers logged while locating the group in the morning, then returning to camp late afternoon.
Dry season has now arrived, and following the group is easier than the past rainy season when large tracts of forest were inundated with lagoons. A few muddy forest streams require careful maneuvering to make the traverse with minimum difficulty. The vegetation is thick and the gorillas are finding bark and leaves and fruits close at hand. Past studies of Group Gentil have noted that the group spends more time on the move during dry season. We didn’t experience this far-ranging behavior. Presently, the group spends several hours of the early afternoon in slumber, though there is always a family member keeping a watchful eye on our activities. Thick vegetation also means the gorillas are often obscured by forest understory, requiring the guides to search for options of best visibility into the group.
I try to highlight additional opportunities while experiencing the beauty of the forest, hoping to communicate when the light is particularly radiant, when we see beautiful trees, and patterns of light and shadow filtering through the canopy. Angelique stops to admire the jewel-like presence of a butterfly, feeding from the bole of a tree bleeding with elephant damage.
Listening to birds in the canopy, the buzz of cicadas, monkeys scattering among the trees, and of course the communication of gorillas through the forest are moments to be noted and appreciated by guides as well as tourists. Even the interactions of the ecoguides and trackers as they read and discuss the animal signs in the forest can make a rewarding document to shape the perspective of a tourist’s forest experience.
These are details that may not be apparent to the trackers and ecoguides in their quest to find gorillas, but are likely to become special memories for the tourist who spends limited time in the forest. The gorillas may be the icing on the cake, but the beauty of a forest experience is the cake itself.