Large Mammals Are Making a Comeback in Gabon’s Batéké Park

The National Park Batéké Plateau, also known as the Batéké Plateau National Park is a wildlife reserve park which is located in the Province of Upper Ogowe in Mpassa, close to Gabon’s border with the Republic of Congo. The park is known for its breathtaking views of narrow stretches of forest along the banks of the Mpassa River meandering into the savannah. 

Its forests and grasslands once teemed with wildlife, including many large mammal predators, but the ecosystem was destroyed by decades of poaching, plundering, and illegal ivory trade. 

The site became a wildlife national park in 2002 and due to its universal cultural and natural significance, it was added onto the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Tentative List on October 20, 2005.

The Mpassa River rises in the Bateke Plateau near the border with the Republic of the Congo. Courtesy: Bernard, Flickr

Monitoring mammal species is a crucial conservation tool, writes Daniela Hedwig for The Conversation AfricaWith ever-increasing levels of human encroachment and poaching, geographical areas–where different habitats, like grassland and forest, meet and merge into one another–need special attention by conservationists to guarantee the survival of populations inhabiting in these.

In 2015, a systematic camera trap based monitoring programme was started by the Aspinall Foundation and the Gabonese National Parks Agency in Batéké Plateau National Park in southeastern Gabon to facilitate the reintroduction of the western lowland gorilla and other wild cats in the national park.

January 2018 saw officials capture one of the spotted hyena species which had been caught on camera traps in the park for the first time in two decades, giving hope that more large mammals might return after years of conservation efforts. The monitoring programme has since found 12 mammal species that are threatened with extinction according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. These include chimpanzee, leopard, elephant, giant pangolin and western lowland gorilla.

The Bateke Plateau National Park is situated at the transition between forest and savannah habitats. Courtesy: The Aspinall Foundation

For decades, it was assumed that mammals like the lion—the last which was thought to be shot in 1996—were extinct in the park. But the results from the camera trap monitoring project give a reason for the hope that wildlife is returning to the park. And captured footage provides intriguing insights into the Batéké mammal species community.

Today, Batéké Plateau National Park appears to be the only park within the network of protected areas in Gabon where the Savannah-dwelling serval, jackal and bush duiker exist together, according to The Conversation Africa. It is also the only park with four species of wild cats. The national park is also rare because it holds large carnivores like the lion and spotted hyena.

The park continues to ensure the continued survival and recovery of the fragile community of mammals. However, illegal hunting remains a threat, particularly in the southeast of the park.