National Geographic : 2003 Sep
MINIDEB Engulfed by one of the biggest wil derness areas in central Africa, Min keb6 is renowned for its large granite domes known as inselbergs. rnM/-, MWAGNE Site of the biggest bai, or water hole clearing, in Gabon, Mwagne supports bongos, otters, and a large population of elephants. Gathering place for hundreds of forest elephants and pri mates that likely had never encountered humans, Langoue Bai was a natural place to name as part of Ivindo National Park-except that it was covered with logging concessions. Working closely with Gabonese officials and French timber giant Rougier, S.A., Fay and colleagues persuaded the company to give up its leases in the area in order to pro tect one of the most important wildlife habitats in Gabon. IVINDO Ivindo protects Langoue Bai and spectacu lar Kongou and Mingouli Falls on the Ivindo River. Famous for gorillas, chim panzees, and the largest man drill troops in the world, Lope also features ancient rock engravings. Undulating savan nas cut by crystal line streams and ribbons of forest house a unique program to return orphan gorillas to MAP KEY the wild. Preexisting protected area New national park Other protected area Logging concession 0mi 50 0km 50 NATIONALGEOGRAPHICMAPS Gabon is an African anomaly, a relatively prosperous, politically stable nation and the least densely populated country in central Africa. White sand beaches and mangrove swamps give way to a rugged, densely forested interior-some 75 percent of Gabon remains covered in forests, which are among the richest and most diverse on Earth-and an eastern fringe of grassy plain. Up to 20 percent of Gabon's plant species are found nowhere else. Timber exports drove the national economy until the 1970s, when large oil deposits were discovered offshore. Still, logging is the country's second largest source of revenue, employing more than a quarter of the workforce. Timber production soared during the 1990s, with half of Gabon's forest now leased to loggers. Environmental laws are rarely enforced, particularly those aimed at halting the bush-meat trade-said to be worth 50 million dollars annually-which often goes hand in hand with logging. Hunting and outbreaks of Ebola virus have cut gorilla and chimpanzee populations in half in Gabon and neigh boring Congo since 1983, making the 13 new national parks more vital than ever.