Odzala-Kokoua National Park
Odzala-Kokoua is one of Africa’s oldest national parks, proclaimed by French administration in 1935. It covers 13600 square kilometres (1.360 million hectares) of pristine rain forest. An integral part of both the Congo Basin and the TRIDOM Transfrontier Park overlapping Gabon, Congo and Central African Republic.
Home to globally significant populations (highest density) of Western Lowland Gorilla and Forest Elephant plus 430 bird species and more than 100 mammal species. (50 are classified as medium- or large sized.) Odzala has the highest number (11) of diurnal primates and highest density of Chimpanzees for any forest block in central Africa.
Bais Bais, or salines are swampy, grassy areas dotted across the rainforest. These offer a rare chance to catch a glimpse into the lves of forest dwellers. Various mammal species come to the bais on a regular basis for the water, grasses, minerals, salts and sedges.
Bais range in size from less than a hectare to more than 10 hectares, they are your best chance of seeing forest wildlife. Viewing takes place from raised platform hides or miradors and requires patience. The bais we visit in Odzala-Kokoua are relatively small for close up viewing of a variety of species.
Trying to view birds and mammals in tropical forests is always challenging. The dense environment and access through the undergrowth means you need a great guide with a comprehensive knowledge of animal behaviour and calls to get the best sightings.
Odzala habitats from dense primary forest to forest fringe, savannah, wide, languid rivers and forest bais and salines provide the ‘green curtain’ of the forest to be pulled back for visitors to get an insight into this spectacular ecosystem.
Many of you will want to observe Western Lowland Gorillas, this giant ape that shares more than 97% of its DNA with humans, is not the only inhabitant of the forest and its bais.
Agile Mangabey, De Brazza’s Monkey, Allen’s Swamp Monkey, Crowned Monkey and Putty-Nosed Monkey are all regularly seen in their preferred habitats. Visitors to Odzala should see a number of these species during their trip. Western Chimpanzee are regularly heard in the M’boko and Lango areas as well as along the Lekoli River. They are not habituated and are seldom seen except during rare appearances at two of the bais that most trips to Odzala visit.
Red River Hog, Harnessed Bushbuck, Grey Duiker and Peters’ Duiker are regularly seen in the M’boko and Lango areas while a number of other forest duiker are occasionally encountered but are difficult to observe (Blue, Yellow-backed, White-bellied and Bay Duiker). Another exciting species occasionally seen after dark is the Water Chevrotain. Hippo occur in the Lekoli River but are secretive and rare.
- Forests of Central Africa: Nature and Man – Jean Pierre Vande Weghe (Protea Book House, 2010) ISBN-13: 9781869190736. An excellent hard cover book that is an excellent introduction to the whole African equatorial region from west to east. It covers mammals, vegetation, people and many other subjects. Odzala is frequently covered.
- Congo Journey – Redmond O’Hanlan – (Penguin Books, 1997) ISBN: 0140121390 “O’Hanlon sets off on a journey into the Congo in search of a dinosaur in a lost prehistoric lake. He describes the hundreds of rare and little-known birds and animals which he encounters on his travels, combining the acute observation of a nineteenth century missionary with the wit and humour of a Monty Python extra.”
- Bradt Travel Guide: Congo – (Bradt Travel Guides, 2008 – 2012 edition due out soon) ISBN-13: 9781841622330 This guidebook to both Congo (Brazzaville), where Odzala is situated, and the neighbouring democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is currently in evision and will feature Odzala when it is reprinted. The book covers the major cities and national parks of the two countries as well as their cultures. Well worth reading for a comprehensive overview of the region.
- Birds of Africa: South of the Sahara – Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan – (Struik, 2011) ISBN-13: 9781770076235 This is THE guide to African birds and is superbly illustrated as well as still being handy enough to use as a field guide despite the fact that it covers such a broad area. It is the only book to describe and illustrate all the birds found in Africa south of the Sahara Desert (the Afrotropic Region), including the islands in the Gulf of Guinea (Sao Tome, Principe and Bioko) just off the coast of Gabon and Cameroon.
- The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals – Jonathan Kingdon – (Christopher Helm, 2004) ISBN: 0713669810 This is the best field guide to the mammals of Africa and is compact, concise, well-illustrated and very easy to use. It is a must in terms of the vast array of primates, squirrels, forest duiker, pangolins and other exciting species found in Odzala.
National Geographic has produced two DVDs on Odzala, while a third DVD covers western lowland gorillas in Nouabale-Ndoki National Park further north in the country. Each one is well worth watching to get to grips with the unique features of the rainforest and bais of the Congo Basin.
- Living with Gorillas (National Geographic, 2008) This DVD covers the lives of Dr Magda Bermejo and her partner German Illera as they track and study the western lowland gorillas of Odzala.
- Mystery Gorilla (National Geographic, 2010) Great footage of the gorillas of Nouabale-Ndoki and the work done here by the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The BBC Natural History Unit has also focused on Odzala and featured this phenomenal national park in the 2001 three-part TV series, ‘Congo’: i) The River that Swallows All Rivers, ii) Spirits of the Forest, iii) Footprints in the Forest. Odzala also featured prominently in a 2002 BBC Wildlife Special called ‘Gorillas: On the Trail of King Kong.
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The smallest sub-species of gorilla, these are the type usually found in zoos, and thus well known as a group. They make their homes in lowland tropical rainforest. The primates are endemic to Central Africa. Our expeditions allow close encounters with family groups habituated by primatologists.
A number of habituated groups of this species are accessible in the Ndzehi area from Ngaga Camp. Sightings in two bais that are accessed on each trip are regular and provide the opportunity for an entirely different kind of gorilla encounter.
There are two species of gorilla found in Africa, the Western Gorilla Gorilla gorilla and the Eastern Gorilla Gorilla beringei. The Eastern Gorilla consists of two subspecies, the well-known Mountain Gorilla G. b. beringei of Uganda and Rwanda, and the Eastern Lowland Gorilla G. b. graueri of the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Both of these subspecies are considered Endangered. The Western Gorilla also consists of two subspecies, the Western Lowland Gorilla G. g. gorilla principally of Congo (Brazzaville) and Gabon, and the little known Cross River Gorilla G. g. diehli of the border region between Cameroon and Nigeria. Both of these subspecies are considered Critically Endangered as a result of commercial bushmeat hunting, disease epidemics and habitat loss. The very slow rate of reproduction accentuates all these effects.
Western lowland gorilla
It is the Western Lowland Gorilla that occurs in Odzala-Kokoua and is found here at the highest densities so far recorded for the species. In the area of Ngaga Camp Western Lowland Gorillas live in groups ranging in size from 10 to 25 individuals (average 16-17 animals), usually with one silverback, maybe 5-7 adult females and then a collection of sub-adults, babies and sometimes subordinate males. In this high density area,home range size is between just less than 4km2 and just over 8km2 (average 5-6km2 or 2 square miles).
Movements within the home range depend on seasonal utilization of key food types. Staple foods for example include leaves, shoots and plant material, but the seasonal availability of fruit is crucial in the diet and influences group foraging movements. Born at 2kg (4.5lbs), female Western Lowland Gorillas will grow to around 70kg (150lbs) in weight, while the much larger males might reach 180kg (390lbs) and stand 1.8m (6 feet) in height.
Western Lowland Gorillas can be observed in two different ways while in Odzala: either through tracking habituated groups using the impressive skills of our expert local Mbeti trackers (Okoko Zepherin and Okele Gabin), or by patiently waiting at hides on the edge of forest bais for family groups to forage on the sedges (water-loving grasses) there.
As a result of the work done by gorilla researchers Dr Magda Bermejo and German Illera, a number of habituated groups can be tracked and observed in the area around Ngaga Camp. In this extended 30km2 (11.5 square miles) area there are no fewer than 7 groups totalling 105 individual gorillas. Two of these groups are usually accessed by our guests while a third is observed primarily for research purposes. Other groups are also seen on a regular basis.
Given that Ngaga Camp is situated at an overlap between the home ranges of three different gorilla groups and close to another three, tracking expeditions do not cover enormous distances and can range in length from 1-8km (0.5-5 miles) over undulating country. The undergrowth can be thick however and, including the time spent with a gorilla group, excursions can last between 2 and 5 hours. Gorilla viewing protocol is based on the guidelines issued by the IUCN for great ape viewing and is very similar to that of Rwanda/Uganda.
Protocols are designed specifically to limit behavioural impact and also potential disease transmission from humans to gorillas. They are critical for gorilla conservation.
• Minimum age for gorilla viewing is 15 years – this is for reasons of safety but also for possible disease transmission, with children under this age more prone to infection.
• Maximum proximity to gorillas is 7 metres (22 feet). It is not permitted to approach more closely and we typically view the animals at 10-15m (32-50 feet).
• Maximum viewing duration of any group is 1 hour per day. Each group is only visited once per day, but if guests would like to spend more than an hour with gorillas on a particular day and time allows it is possible to track a different group following the first encounter.
• Maximum number of guests per gorilla tracking excursion is 6.
• Guests that display cold, flu or other respiratory tract symptoms, will not be allowed to track gorillas.
• No food is permitted on gorilla tracking excursions, nor is smoking allowed. Hand washing facilities are provided at Ngaga Camp prior to gorilla tracking.
• While gorilla sightings and encounters are very reliable, viewing is dependent on variables such as weather and tracking conditions.
Recently recognized as separate sub-species, these forest-dwelling giants are the smallest in their family group and highly elusive. With slight differences in their physiology and an important role to play in seed dispersal within the forests, the best place to see them is at mineral licks in clearings.
There are two species of chimpanzee, both of which are found in the Congo Basin. The closest living relatives to humans, there are few places that the apes live where they are truly wild. A trekking expedition into close quarters with them is an unforgettable experience.
This is one of the more visible primate species in Odzala and is seen in the M’boko and Lango areas, as well as along the Lenkeni and Lekoli Rivers. It is also a regular visitor to the forest bais, including three that we visit on a regular basis.
Another fairly visible species that is regularly seen in the forests around M’boko especially in the early morning.
Although difficult to observe for long periods of time, this colourful species is fairly regularly seen in mature forest.
This charismatic species is abundant and is commonly seen in the M’boko and Lango areas and especially at Lango and Mbouebe Bais, along the Lekoli River and in the savannah.
This exciting forest species is resident in the area around Lango Camp and although primarily nocturnal is regularly seen, either as single animals or in a small herd of about 6 animals. It is also occasionally seen at one of the bais that is visited on most expeditions to Odzala.
This is a resident species in the area around Lango Camp and is regularly seen, especially at the bai near Camp.
This is the most regularly-seen forest duiker species since it visits the open bais and can therefore be easily observed.