Wildlife travel: The best of Africa

Four top destinations that need to be on every wildlife enthusiast’s ‘must-see’ list. 

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BBC Wildlife Magazine travel supplement, March 2014.

Loango National Park, Gabon

“I literally want as many people on Earth as possible to see this place and fall in love with it,” said the conservationist J Michael Fay, after he emerged from the rainforest here in December 2000 following his ‘megatransect’ of the Congo Basin.

Hippos surfing in the sea, elephants loitering on the beach, and western lowland gorillas and chimpanzees inland were all factors behind his zeal for this area. And thanks to Fay’s tireless lobbying of Gabon’s former president Omar Bongo, this part of Africa finally became Loango National Park.

It may not be the most obvious destination in Africa, but Gabon does tick a lot of the right boxes, with wildlife-rich tropical rainforest still covering some 70 per cent of the country’s surface area.

The network of national parks, all set up in 2002, comprise 10 per cent of its territory, and also include Ivindo, a refuge for forest elephants, and Lopé, one of the most significant strongholds for the increasingly rare mandrill.

 

Majete Wildlife Reserve, Malawi

If Loango is a story about preserving an intact Eden, Majete is quite the reverse.

When the non-profit organisation African Parks took over the running of the reserve in 2003, thanks to years of unchecked poaching it was almost devoid of any fauna worth talking about. Since then more than 2,500 animals from 12 species have been reintroduced, including black rhinos, elephants, lions and leopards.

At the end of 2013, conservation efforts were boosted by the news that the recently released big cats had produced cubs, further evidence that the park’s ecosystems are slowly recovering.

In a continent where habitat is mainly shrinking, the news that one reserve is growing its capacity to accommodate wildlife can only be good news – get there before the crowds.

 

Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia

A bleak, rugged landscape punctuated by alien-looking, giant lobelia trees, the Bale Mountains rise to more than 4,000m in altitude.

While birders come here to tick the 7 (out of 17) Ethiopian endemics – Abyssinian longclaw, anyone? – general nature lovers will have a rather larger species in mind: the Ethiopian wolf, one of the world’s rarest canids. There are no more than about 500 individuals left, and an estimated 60 per cent are found in the Bale Mountains, mostly above the 3,000m contour line.

Sightings in the Web Valley or Sanetti Plateau, it is claimed, are virtually guaranteed, and from October to February pups are easily seen.

Other species include the mountain nyala, an antelope found in high-altitude woodland, and the endemic Bale monkey.

 

Etosha National Park, Namibia

The central feature of Etosha National Park is its giant saltpan of some 4,800km2 that is so spectacular in appearance it was used by Stanley Kubrick for the filming of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Etosha means ‘place of dry water’ but the water holes that are found here attract healthy numbers of black rhinos plus zebras, springboks and oryx, as well as the associated predators such as lions, leopards and cheetahs.

The pan itself contains water only after heavy rainfall, sometimes for just days at a time, and the blue-green algae that grow here draw huge flocks of flamingos.

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