Ocean Giants: Leatherback Sea Turtles Video
WCS scientist Howard Rosenbaum explains the fragile world of the ocean’s ancient mariners.
Gabonese Photo
WCS works with local communities to protect sites of incredible conservation importance like Gabon, a World Heritage Site.
©Jim Large
Forest Elephant in Gabon Photo
Gabon has what is believed to be the largest population of forest elephants in Central Africa with up to 60,000 animals estimated.
©R. Butler /
Gabon Landscape Photo
WCS helped Gabon establish a system of 13 national parks in 2002 that set aside more than 10 percent of the country for conservation.
©R. Butler /

Gabon is a true Eden of Africa, hosting one of the oldest human settlements on Earth and a full array of iconic African wildlife. Gabon's forests shelter species such as gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, and mandrills, while its seas contain humpback whales, leatherback turtles, and manatees. Bridging Gabon’s open waters and its pristine forests is one of the most spectacular and environmentally intact coastlines in the world.

The country remains a haven for wildlife due to a history of relative isolation. Today, however, with threats increasing from industrial development, the country needs to find new conservation strategies that will ensure Gabon remains a haven for spectacular wildlife. Gabon’s national parks, established in 2002, are now the cornerstones of such conservation efforts, though much work remains to ensure they continue as a refuge for wildlife.

Fast Facts

  • Up to 60,000 forest elephants inhabit Gabon's vast forests. This may be the largest population of forest elephants in central Africa.
  • The world’s largest population of leatherback turtles nest on Gabon’s beaches, and a recent study estimates there are 47,000 females alone.
  • Around 1,300 mandrills in one troop were observed in Lopé National Park. This is the largest-ever recorded aggregation of primates.
  • Many of the Congo Basin’s last great tusker elephants survive in Ivindo National Park and can be seen at Langoue Bai.
  • One of the world’s largest congregations of humpback whales breeds in the unspoiled waters off Gabon’s coast.
  • Gabon's coastal lagoons are among the most pristine in Africa, with hippos, manatees, crocodiles, and tarpon.
  • Lopé became Gabon’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, both for its wildlife and for its anthropological value. Inhabited almost continuously for 400,000 years, Lopé includes artifacts of hunter-gatherer settlements, representing the oldest concentration of archaeological relics in central Africa.
  • Deep in the forests of Ivindo National Park, Gabon’s waterfalls are some of the largest and most impressive in central Africa.


As Gabon opens-up to the outside world and diversifies its economy, new roads and rail networks are bringing an influx of workers into previously remote regions, causing an alarming rise in poaching, logging, and commercial trade in wildlife. Similarly, as new sources of minerals, oil and gas are discovered, the conflict between exploiting these resources for economic gain and the need to protect sites of incredible conservation importance is intensifying.

WCS Responds

WCS’s history in Gabon began in 1985 with the first surveys of forest elephants, followed by a nationwide conservation priority assessment. These groundbreaking studies bore remarkable results when WCS helped the government established its national park system in 2002, encompassing 13 parks and more than 10 percent of the country's total area. 

The new national park system was partly an outcome of WCS explorer Dr. Mike Fay's famed "megatransect" through the remote forests of Gabon and neighboring Republic of Congo. Fay traveled with local assistants for 2,000 miles and 456 days, prompted by concerns that future logging would deprive the scientific community of what might otherwise be learned there.  Fay's observations helped President Bongo recognize his country's significant wildlife heritage. Subsequent WCS-led studies have revealed that Gabon is home to the world’s largest nesting population of leatherback turtles and the largest remaining population of forest elephants.

Today, WCS remains the largest and most influential international conservation NGO working in Gabon. WCS has increased its commitment to two major landscapes: the Congo Basin Coast and the Ivindo-Chaillu Forest. Through these programs, WCS supports conservation in 7 of the 13 national parks. WCS is helping train government conservation workers and supports pilot ecotourism initiatives. A major new Payments for Ecosystem Services project is helping protect the country’s most important watershed in the Monts de Cristal National Park, also a biodiversity gem.

WCS Projects

Ecoguards of Central Africa

As the eyes and ears for conservationists, ecoguards work not only to protect national parks and surrounding lands, but also to help evaluate the success of international conservation efforts.

Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever Virus

Throughout Ebola high-risk zones, our researchers assess great ape health and improve Ebola prevention awareness in remote communities.

From the Newsroom

More Devastating News for Forest ElephantsFebruary 12, 2014

The authors of a landmark 2013 study, coordinated by WCS, show that forest elephant poaching continues apace, with 65 percent of the animals lost between 2002 and 2013. The information was released at the United for Wildlife International Wildlife Trafficking Symposium at the Zoological Society of London.

Researchers Focus on Small PredatorsOctober 2, 2013

Aided by camera traps and bushmeat hunting records, a team of researchers maps 12 carnivores in Gabon.

Extinction Looms for Forest ElephantsMarch 7, 2013

Following the largest study ever conducted on the forest elephant in Central Africa, conservationists say the species could vanish within the next decade. The study comes as 178 countries gather in Bangkok to discuss wildlife trade issues, including poaching and ivory smuggling.

Forest Elephants Are Running Out of SpaceAugust 17, 2011

In the rainforests of Central Africa, hunters are finding their way into once inaccessible terrain, spelling disaster for forest elephants.

Scientists Track Ancient MarinersDecember 23, 2009

Noelle and Darwinia, two leatherback sea turtles from Gabon, are now wearing satellite tracking devices as they swim through the seas, aiding researchers studying the species' movements. Interested members of the public can also keep up with the turtles progress online.


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