Africa’s Eden, operator of Loango National Park in Gabon, has been named the winner of the British Guild of Travel Writers Best New Overseas Project Award 2008. To achieve this international prize, it had to prove it was of social and economic benefit and had management policies which minimise adverse environmental impacts.
Tourism was almost unknown in Gabon when Loango National Park began as a pilot project by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Africa’s Eden. Its overriding ethos was ‘ecotourism pays for conservation’.
It followed the bold decision by Gabon’s President Bongo in 2002 to designate 11 percent of his country as national parkland. Only Costa Rica had set aside more land. In 2007, Loango launched, opening the doors to ‘Rainforest Africa’.
A mosaic of grassland, rivers, forest and mangroves, Loango offers a unique safari experience on the African continent because the wildlife is so spectacularly varied – with whales, elephants, hippos, leopards, reptiles and primates galore.
Visitors are accommodated in the eco-friendly Loango Lodge and five satellite tented camps and wildlife viewing is small scale with pirogue trips, forest treks or savannah drives. “We will never have 20 Jeeps around a waterhole shining lights into animals’ eyes,” says Rombout Swanborn, Director of Africa’s Eden.
Five hundred Gabonese live in the area and nearly 100 have gained employment as ecoguides etc. Local farmers and fishermen now sell their produce to the lodge while their children study in a new school built by the park. “Loango is a shining example of how ecotourism can bring benefit to a community and promote conservation,” says Sarah Monaghan, Editor of Gabon Magazine.
It is also an important base for scientific research, funded by tourism. NGOs such as the WWF are studying its whales, elephants and turtles while primatologists have begun a pioneering project to habituate endangered western lowland gorillas to tourists. Now the Wildlife Conservation Society is proposing the park as aWorld Heritage Site. As Lee White, Conservation Director for Central Africa, says:
“Loango is an unmatched example of conservation on the back of a well-organised tourism infrastructure. It really is a model park.”
Founded in 1960, the British Guild of Travel Writers is the premier association for travel publication professionals in the United Kingdom. It comprises some 300 writers, editors, photographers, producers, radio and television presenters.
The British Guild of Travel Writers makes three annual awards for tourism projects:
Nominators are asked to provide evidence that the project is of social and economic benefit to the local community and that it has management policies which minimise adverse environmental impacts in matters such as waste, energy, water use and transport. Projects are also expected to protect or harmonise with the cultural, built and natural environment.