Situated within the Congo Basin, Gabon’s extensive and largely untouched forests, which feature a wide variety of wildlife, were also home to a group of filmmakers and actors for six weeks in 2014, when they came to the country looking for the perfect wilderness location to shoot several scenes for a remake of the film, The Legend of Tarzan. If the story is well known, its setting remains secret, with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stories revealing little about the whereabouts of the King of the Jungle’s home. However, according to conservationist Josh Ponte, the film’s advisor, “Gabon claims to own the Tarzan legend and truly believes it.”
With the second-largest rain-forest in the world and ample and diverse plant and animal life, Gabon is certainly an ideal location for a wilderness-based adventure. The country is home to more than 8000 plant species, including some of the world’s rarest trees. The hardwood Kevazingo tree, for example, is highly prized, taking 500 years to grow to its full height of around 40 metres. Approximately 150 different mammals, 600 bird species and 65 types of reptiles inhabit Gabon, including 35,000 gorillas out of the world’s population of 100,000. The country’s forests, mangroves and rainforests are also home to some of the world’s largest populations of forest elephants, chimpanzees, hippos and nesting leatherback turtles.
However, the country’s natural resources are coming under increased pressure due to a number of internal and external factors, such as illegal logging, poaching and urban development, with more than 200 plant and animal species considered to be under threat. Gabon is home to roughly half of the world’s forest elephant population, the majority of which reside in the Minkebe National Park. In the 10 years leading to 2012, around 11,000 elephants were lost from the park. Protecting the forests has become an increasingly important issue for the country, and in 2002 authorities announced that a network of 13 national parks was to be established nationwide. Overseen by the National Agency of National Parks, the combined surface of the parks now encompasses more than 3m ha of land – approximately 11% of the country’s territory. Additionally, a number of private initiatives have emerged over the years to supplement government efforts, the most recent of which leverages the promotional power of Hollywood.
The cast, producers and studios involved in The NGO Stop Ivory in support of the Elephant Protection Initiative, which aims to protect Africa’s endangered forest elephants. The partnership, which consists of a public service announcement (PSA) in support of the initiative featuring the film’s main actors, aims to raise awareness among viewers of the danger the declining elephant population faces from poachers and the illegal ivory trade. The campaign will screen in cinemas across the US, and an international Stop Ivory PSA will be available online and through social media platforms.
Another way of hedging against further degradation of Gabon’s forests and wildlife is through eco-friendly tourism. In line with the Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan, the government has set a target of generating CFA25bn (€37.5m) per year by 2025 through ecotourism. However, achieving this objective is still some way off, as the sector is currently in the early stages of development, and international tourist arrivals to the country remain shy of their potential. That said, the number of locals visiting Gabon’s forests during their leisure time is reported to have increased in recent years, according to local media reports.
As one of Africa’s competitive advantages is undoubtedly its wildlife, landscapes and natural beauty, unlocking the potential of sectors like ecotourism could represent a significant boon to Gabon’s economy. According to the World Tourism Organisation, wildlife watching represents 80% of total annual trip sales to Africa, demonstrating that there is a lot of potential for the country to capitalise on its diverse fauna and flora.
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