From May 21st to May 25th Teun and I (and a group of other volunteers from Yenzi) volunteered our time to help out the Fernan Vaz Gorilla Project (or Le Projet Gorille Fernan-Vaz in French). It was an amazing experience and I’m so happy we were able to be involved!
The Fernan Vaz Gorilla Project is an educational and rehabilitation center for western lowland gorillas in Gabon. You can learn more about them on their website: http://gorillasgabon.org/. They have 2 islands in the Fernan-Vaz lagoon that they work from, 1 if for orphaned gorillas (usually because of the illegal bushmeat trade in Gabon) that they aim to release back in the wild once they are healthy and old enough, the 2nd is an educational center that is home to 4 adult gorillas that can not be released into the wild because they are too dependent on humans for food (these gorillas came in 2001 from living in a research facility in Gabon) and the aim is that these gorillas will help promote great ape conservation through education and eco-tourism. We went to help make improvements (building a jetty for boats to dock on and repair to the gorillas enclosures) on the 2nd island to make it more feasible to bring tourists to view these magnificent animals which will raise the funds needed for the rehabilitation center.
But to get to the Fernan-Vaz was an adventure in and of itself. It started with a ferry ride through the Ndogo lagoon, which is simple enough except that the cars had to go on a separate ferry than all of us, one which took much longer than ours. So the day before we actually left Gamba, we sent our cars out on the ferry. One of the volunteers and his son went on the fast ferry the same day and then camped overnight with the cars. The rest of us left in the wee hours of the morning of the 21st and took the fast ferry (1 hour versus 5 hours) and met them on the other side of the lagoon. Now the real fun began.
We spent the next 6 hours driving through beautiful forest towards the Fernan-Vaz lagoon. The roads started out pretty good, well maintained laterite that we could keep up a good pace on. But after a couple of hours and turning off of the main route, the road got quite a bit worse and in some areas our pace slowed to a crawl. I loved every second of it!
Stopping at a check point before entering the Rabi Complex. Luckily we didn’t have to wait too long, some of the volunteers that were driving up later in the day had to wait a couple of hours before being let through
Still not too bad, but to pace was pretty slow through this area
We arrived around 4pm and began setting up camp in a field near where the boats would pick us up from to get to the island with the gorillas.
We had a nice, short hike through the woods down to the boat the next morning and even found some new friends
We divided into 2 groups, one that would make the repairs on the gorilla enclosures and the other that would build the jetty. It was really hard work, and for the most part I’m not sure how helpful I was being that I’m almost the least handy person there is (but I learned how to mix cement several different ways and I’m a pro a carrying around pieces of wood LOL), but together we really accomplished a lot and made some huge improvements to the island.
Team Jetty hard at work:
Our well deserved lunch break
Team Gorilla Enclosures just monkeying around:
So the young male gorilla wasn’t really happy the team was working on his transfer cage and showed his frustration by continually running up the door (the only thing keeping him away from the team) and slamming tree branches or his body up against it. His care taker protected them by standing inside the cage and banging a stick back at him. All in all I think they had a pretty relaxing time…until he actually broke the door. Don’t worry…no gorillas were injured in the process… 😉
Heading back to camp on Day 1:
I don’t think the gorillas were very impressed by our effort
After we got cleaned up a bit (as best you can with camping shower bags and face wipes…) we went out to dinner the nearby town of Omboue. It was in a beautiful restaurant above the water.
Our beautiful finished jetty.
It even functioned properly!
On day 2 the children of some of the volunteers came for a visit
On day 3 we came back to make some final adjustments to the jetty and walkway
And say goodbye to our new friends
Again, he just doesn’t seem impressed by the quality of work… He was actually scraping the paint off with his fingernail, it was pretty unreal
After leaving the gorillas we got to do a little sight seeing nearby and were put up by the owners of Loango Lodge in thanks for our volunteer efforts, but you can read all about that in the next blog post!
For now, bye, bye from Kolo and the gang
One thought on “Gabon Road Trip and Volunteering: Fernan Vaz Gorilla Project”
Really great to read your Gabon experience! Pictures are great as well!