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Thursday
Feb022012

On the Line - National Parks of the Equator

The Equator passes through many different National Parks in the various continents it dissects. Here are just a couple of the spectacular regions which highlight the vast biodiversity found at the centre of our planet.

Gabon

As we mentioned yesterday, Gabon has in recent years declared a huge percentage of the country as National Parks, a great result for the spectacular wildlife found here. In all, 13 sites were declared as National Parks, and several of them sit either on, or very close to the Earth’s Equator. 

Lopé National Park

The Lopé National Park was the first area in Gabon to be protected, declared an official wildlife reserve back in 1946, known then as Lopé-Okanda. The reserve was then designated as one of 13 National Parks by the then president Omar Bongo, as part of an attempt to cash in on eco-tourism as an alternative to the country’s dwindling oil reserves. In 2007, Lopé was recognised for its importance and added to the World Heritage List by UNESCO.

The park is situated right in the centre of the country and comprises mainly dense rainforest covering an area of approximately 4910km². However, in the north of the park you will find some of the last remnants of the grass savannahs created during the last ice age.

Conservation issues in Lopé are applicable to Gabon as a whole. As Gabon opens-up to the outside world and diversifies its economy, new roads and rail networks are bringing an increased number of people into previously remote areas, causing an alarming rise in poaching, logging, and commercial trade in wildlife. In addition, as new sources of minerals, oil and gas are discovered, the conflict between exploiting these resources for economic gain and the need to protect sites of incredible conservation importance is intensifying.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has been working in Gabon since 1985. It was the extensive research carried out into the country’s remote forests which aided in the creation of a National Park system in the country. Currently research is concerned with the training of government conservation workers, as well as supporting pilot eco-tourism initiatives.

Photo sourtesy of Rennett Stowe

Wildlife

Claiming to be the Costa Rica of the African continent, Gabon really is a great location for seeing some of the world’s most incredible wildlife. The species you’ll find in Lopé are testament to this claim, with 63 different types of mammal alone. Some of the animal highlights include the forest elephant (Gabon is thought to be home to up to 60,000 forest elephants, the largest population in Central Africa), leopard, western lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, mandrill (a troup of around 1,300 individuals were observed in Lopé, the largest ever aggregation of primates), forest buffalo, sun-tailed guenon, black colobus, yellow-backed duiker and the spectacularly named sitantunga.

Bird lovers won’t be disappointed either, with a wide variety of species recorded, including the rosy bee-eater, crowned hawk eagle, Dja river warbler, great blue turaco, grey-necked rock fowl (pitacarthes), chocolate-backed kingfisher, emerald cuckoo and black guinea fowl.

The forests of Lopé have been continuously inhabited for around 400,000 years. The area is full of artefacts of hunter-gatherer settlements, and is the oldest concentration of archaeological relics in central Africa…a site literally teeming with natural history.

Colombia

The National System of Protected Areas of Colombia is made up of 55 separate natural areas. Although not all of these are officially National Parks, these protected areas cover approximately 10% of the country.

Chiribiquete National Park

With the Equator running straight through it, Chiribiquete is Colombia’s biggest National Park. This incredibly beautiful landscape covers an area of 12,800km ² to the south of the country. It is constituted of unexplored rainforest, savannah and mountains.

The spectacular Chiribiquete Mountains, known as Tepuyes or table mountains, sit at the centre of the park, and due to their isolation and inaccessibility, remain largely unexplored. These are some of the oldest rock formation to be found in the Amazon, and were formed as the surrounding mountains were slowly eroded, leaving the floating islands protruding from endless rainforest.

Wildlife

Sitting at the western edge of the Guiana Shield, which is recognised as being one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet, the park is home to a vast variety of unique flora and fauna.

Species known to inhabit the area include tapir, jaguar, various primates, countless bird species, as well as a reported 72 species of beetle, 313 butterflies, 3 species of otter and 2 types of dolphin. Chiribiquete National Park is also home to the Chiribiquete Emerald, a type of hummingbird only found on Colombia.

Just like Lopé in Gabon, there is extensive evidence and remnants of indigenous inhabitants. A huge number of paintings on the central mountains were thought to be made by the Karijona people, an indigenous group today thought to number in their thousands.

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