|Project Manager, WCS Gabon/ CIRMF|
|Development of a Mandrill Tourism Product in Lope National Park, Gabon|
|Location: Lope National Park, Gabon|
|Species: Mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx) ecotourism|
|Abstract: A network of 13 National Parks was created in Gabon in order to develop an ecotourism industry. Successful ecotourism products need to be developed to maintain government support over the previously favoured exploitative industries such as logging. The aim of this project is to demonstrate a successful ecotourism venture within the National Park network and contribute to the conservation goals in Gabon. We hope to show that an ecotourism product around the observation of mandrills in Lope National Park is logistically possible and financially viable and can be used as a model for the development of other similar products in the future. Lopé National Park has the unique opportunity to develop such a product due to the presence of a radio-collared mandrill horde and their use of the forest-savanna mosaic habitat. A demand to observe wild mandrills has already been expressed by tour operators and visitors to the park.|
Project Update: December 2006
This project aims to support mandrill conservation in Gabon through the development of an ecotourism activity around the tracking and observation of mandrills. The project was developed to contribute to the conservation goals of Lopé National Park in particular, and the national park network in general, by developing and promoting a novel ecotourism product in line with the government's objective of creating an ecotourism sector within the park network.
Radio-tracking collared individuals within the mandrill horde is central to the project and ensures that the groups can be followed regularly. This provides the basis of the tourism product allowing tourists the opportunity to track and observe mandrill groups in the wild. It also allows valuable data to be collected on mandrill movements and habitat use. A priority for the project was to renew collars within the horde as there were only two remaining collars, both of which were toward the end of their battery life. Although it was hoped that six new collars would be fitted in the horde, wild mandrill captures are extremely challenging. Four new collars were successfully fitted to three adult females (Eden, Kilo and Elsa) and one sub-adult male (Julian) by field vets from the WCS Field Vet Program in two separate mandrill captures in June and November 2006. These individuals are being followed regularly by the mandrill team.
Field work involving the tracking and observation of mandrills continues with the two field assistants. The team has a good understanding of the mandrill home range and different observation points are continuously being tested. Due to a delay in finding a suitable Gabonese Project Manager, training and capacity building on ecotourism had to be postponed. A candidate has since been selected and started in December 2006. He has already completed IT training and is now in Lope to start training in field skills and techniques including radio-telemetry and mandrill ecology. A comprehensive ecotourism training program is being developed and will be carried out in weekly sessions from February 2007.
The mandrill health monitoring program is underway with faecal samples collected during July and August 2006. They are currently at laboratories at CIRMF awaiting analysis. We hope to continue with more faecal sample collection as soon as we get the necessary material to enable us to do so.
A small number of tourist groups have been taken out on mandrill excursions as part of a pilot phase of the tourism development. Evaluation sheets are completed so that the experience can be evaluated and the product can be improved to meet the demands of tourists. The feedback from tourists participating on excursions is invaluable to us in providing a high quality product and enables us to develop the product appropriately. Promotional material is being developed and we hope to offer mandrill excursions on a more regular basis from 2007.
|Above mandrill photos by Nerissa Chao unless otherwise noted.|
Project Report: August 2007
The development of an ecotourism product around the observation of mandrills was successfully accomplished. The pilot phase of tourism development started in January 2007 with positive results. Feedback showed that 90% of tourists rated the overall quality of the excursion as excellent or good and 64% the viewing quality of mandrills. The start of tourism excursions has meant that tourism is starting to contribute to the running costs of the project and is contributing to park revenue through the park entry fees they generate. In feedback questionnaires, 94% of tourists said that the offer of a mandrill excursion would extend their stay in Lope National Park, and all but one visitor said that they would recommend this activity to a friend. This already shows the potential that Mandrill Tracking Safaris has in encouraging visitors to come and stay longer in Lope and improve present tourism overall. Successful ecotourism development is essential to ensure the long term protection and conservation of biodiversity in Gabon’s National Park network.
As part of the development of the product an emphasis was placed on training and capacity building of the field team. A selling point of this product is the scientific experience that we are offering tourists as well as the chance to see mandrills, with a focus on the research and biological knowledge of the staff. All of the team has prior experience working in conservation and research, with extensive knowledge of the forest. One of the long term objectives, and to ensure sustainability of the product is to ensure sufficient and in-depth training allowing local staff to manage the product in the long term.
At present we have five Gabonese staff working on the project on a part or full time basis. Their roles include field assistant, field team leader, eco-guides, manager. As well as the ongoing practical field skills training (including radio-telemetry, navigation, data collection), a carefully structured eco-guide training program was developed. This was carried out alongside and English language course and carried out over a 5 month period. This was designed to cover a wide range of topics ensuring the team had a good knowledge of a variety of topics besides mandrills.
A main priority in developing this tourism product was to ensure that it followed strict ecotourism principles. An emphasis was put on the training in ensuring that the team understood the potential impacts from tourism and how to reduce these. This was also continued in the field with the team ensuring that tourist excursions did not impact mandrill health or behavior by following strict codes of conduct in the forest and ensuring that the mandrills’ movement and behavior were not influenced by bringing tourists to see them. The mandrill health monitoring program will monitor the health of the mandrill horde through parasite presence and we are hoping to be able to extend this to look at the impact of tourism on the horde through stress hormones.
Impact of the project This project is still at the early stages of development. However, the project has been able to make some significant accomplishments and continues to develop and improve. Publicity for tourism excursions has not been aggressively pursued due to our ongoing lack of certain resources and the continual training, making it difficult to offer excursions on a full time basis. However, a publicity brochure has been developed and tour operators contacted and a number of tourist excursions implemented. There has been a growing interest in mandrill excursions showing that this product has an important potential impact for tourism development and improvement in Lope National Park and the Park network in general, as this is the only place where tourists have the opportunity to track wild mandrills. A growing interest in mandrills as a tourism product will also bring greater support for their conservation and will play an important role in the development of a conservation strategy for the species. Few people know anything about mandrills, so bringing them into the public domain will help to bring attention to their conservation needs. We also hope that once the product is fully functioning, we will be able to further implicate the local community and further gain their support.
Mandrills are still a hunted species despite being protected under Gabonese law. The mandrill team in Lope is able to monitor hunting of the horde and can offer some protection through their daily presence. The project also has the potential to increase the pressure on the government and Park authorities to ensure anti-poaching missions in the park are enforced as they are supportive of, and wish, ecotourism in the Park.