Where is the best place to see Mandrills?
See Wild Travels receives many requests from clients eager to see mandrills in Gabon.
In keeping with our proud reputation for giving clients the most honest and informative details about what they can expect on a trip to Gabon, this new blog has been created to answer the most frequently asked questions about Mandrill trekking, and help all those with a quest to view these primates that are waiting to impress you like they did Charles Darwin many years ago...
"no other member in the whole class of mammals is coloured in so extraordinary a manner as the adult male mandrill's"
Charles Darwin: In the Descent of Man
Where are the Mandrills in Gabon?
It is believed that Mandrills roam throughout most of Gabon with exceptions being in the East, and a section along the Mid to South-Western coastal area where Loango and Moukalaba Doudou national parks lie. In this section there has not been any confirmed evidence of Mandrill presence.
The Mandrill's known distribution covers the following National Parks: Lopé; Pongara; Wonga Wongue; Waka; Minkebe; Akanda; Birougou; Monts de Crystal.
So, where can one see wild Mandrills in Gabon?
Much like with gorillas, seeing more than just a glinting flee of Mandrills in their wild habitat is almost impossible unless they have undergone a process of habituation / conditioning to human presence.
Therefore, as within Loango where there is a group of gorillas habituated for research and tourism, in Lopé there is a group of Mandrills who are going through the same habituation process, aided by GPS trackers which enable the researchers to easily find the individuals.
To see the large groups all together is a real challenge at this stage and visitors are more likely to encounter 150 to 300 individuals at a time. You can not get as close to them as you can the gorillas in Loango i.e. up to 7 metres. In Lopé, you can get about 30 to 50 metres from the group & guides will assist you in finding the best viewing spots for the duration of the visit.
Lopé National Park is the only park where you have a really good chance of seeing truly wild Mandrills. In the other national parks where they are present there are no habituated groups.
What about Lékédi?
In the south of Gabon towards the eastern edge of the Mandrill's range there is the private reserve, Lékédi. It is a private park that is fenced and divided into 3 sectors by fences that are visible when driving around the park. A different experience to Lopé, where you will find no fences. It also lacks the dangers (and thrill) of encountering elephants, because there are none in Lékédi private park.
That said, in Lékédi it is possible to get waaaaay closer to the Mandrills. Why? Because
the 300 or so mandrills that are free-roaming in the forests of Lékédi private reserve are a mixture of wild-born and captive-born reintroduced mandrills from a Gabonese medical research laboratory near Franceville, in the South-eastern corner of Gabon.
The group receives supplement food from rangers, which results in the possibility for people to get much closer to them that you would in Lopé.
In Lopé humans only ever observe the Mandrills, with the intention that full habituation will be achieved through gradually increasing the distance between them and researchers through daily group follows and decreasing the distance bit by bit as the Mandrills lose their fear of the researchers and simply see them as part of the environment.
Is Mandrill Trekking currently open in Lopé?
No, right now restrictions in place to prevent the spread of Covid 19 prevents the Mandrill research project from advancing at its desired pace, and international tourism is still not quite possible in Gabon.
Once international travel resumes then the project should reopen, and at the same time, Moabi camp in Lopé will complete a few final logistical plans in order to open its doors to tourists for a magical and absolute wild experience...
it is so special to be in the forest, surrounded by a group of individuals 150 - 300 strong, and absorb the sounds of the forest coupled with Mandrill vocalisations as they moved around you. It has been described as more intense than the gorilla visit; gorillas are the laid-back gentle giants, who spend most of their day eating, resting, and travelling. Oh, and passing wind! Mandrills are livelier, with more social interactions than gorillas.
Which is better: Lopé or Lékédi?
This is subjective to the tourist...
If your objective is to trek truly wild Mandrills in a National Park with no boundaries, among all natural flora and fauna then Lopé is for you. Although...you will not be able to get super close to the Mandrills.
If your objective is to get closer to Mandrills, that are a free-roaming mix of wild-born and captive-born Mandrills in a quasi-natural setting then Lékédi is for you.
When to visit?
Pandemics and travel restrictions aside (let's dream that these are no longer reality for a moment!), let's return our thoughts back to those strikingly beautiful and iconic (Darwin quoted) colours displayed by Mandrills, in particular the dominant males that conjure up thoughts of Rafiki from the Lion king!
These colours fade and ignite at different times of the year and are usually the deciding factor for when to visit.
Impressive and vibrant colours ranging from bright blue to violet on the cheeks and deep scarlet on the nose, with fluffy and almost goatee style beards that look inviting for an admiring "ruffle"! And their rears aren't too bad either...pink to crimson buttock pads which fade to blue at the sides, displaying virility and status.
Females also possess showy "ornaments", with face colours ranging from black to pink which is thought to be determined by the females fertility status.
The colours themselves are made even more impressive by the fact that no mammal is known to have red and blue pigments, and it is therefore thought the colours are derived from light diffraction in collagen fibers. - these colours become brighter when the Mandrills are excited and are at their loudest during the mating season months of May to October, making these months favourable for visits so that you can see the Mandrills in all of their colourful glory.
When Mandrill trekking in Lopé is possible again then the price for a permit is €230 and a visit, which starts and ends at the SEGC (Station d'Etudes des Gorilles et Chimpanzes) research station, lasts anything from 4 - 6 hours, depending on the terrain and the behaviour of the mandrills. Masks were not required, but this may have to change in the future. Mandrills are constantly moving so people must be mobile and strong hikers. SEGC research station is long established (since 1983) and has seen many collaborations in its lifetime. Now managed by the national park's agency (ANPN), it is the perfect place to discover a plethora of knowledge about Gabon's wildlife, national parks, history, and culture.
See Wild Travels are keen to welcome you to Lopé once tourism reopens and Moabi camp has received its final touches, a beautiful camp, located within the midst of rolling hills, savannas, and dreamy views of Mount Brazza.
Do check out the link to our website for more info https://www.seewildtravels.com/moabi-camp-gabon
We can also assist with putting you in contact with the right people for a trip to Lékédi - or you could combine the two for a Mandrill overload!
Either way, do get in touch with any questions or comments and we will endeavour to help you in your quest for knowledge or travel options.
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