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Gabon: Ogooue Lake surveys

After the workshop I accompanied Heather and Cyrille out to their ecotourism site on Lac Oguemoue for a few days. Even though it’s dry season and I didn’t expect to see manatees, I’d never been to most of the large lakes off the Ogooue River before, and it was a chance to talk to local people and see the habitat. Although many of the lakes are connected, their character and the plants that occur in each can be quite different.

This is a view of the Ogooue River from Lambarene. In the rainy season the large sandbars are underwater.

These river boats in Lambarene are definitely potential manatee killers (12 engines!), so I guess it’s a good thing manatees mostly seem to stay out of the main river. These boats run 6 hours down to the coastal town of Port Gentil.

On our way to the lakes we saw numerous hippos (10 in one day!) but since I only had my point & shoot camera they’re mostly specs. There are 4 in this photo, 2 are submerging…

 Several species of manatee plants here…in the rainy season the water floods this whole area and the manatees have an underwater salad bar. I need to come back in the rainy season!

 Same thing in the forest, there are lots of areas here where manatee can swim into the flooded forest in the rainy season. But now it’s easy to see why they aren’t seen in the dry season, the mud banks are 15 feet high!

Rainy season is coming! This is a view of Lac Onangue, the largest lake in the region

Water lines on the boulders at Lac Oguemoue. Unlike Lac Ezanga that had lots of grasses for manatees to eat even at this season, boulders line the shoreline of this lake and there are no aquatic plants, so not much reason for them to be here now.

 We set up our tents on a very pretty strip of beach along Lac Oguemoue with old elephant prints in the sand nearby.

Heather and Cyrille are building permanent tent platforms at their Tsam Tsam ecotourism site. Each platform will be in a slightly secluded place at the edge of the lake so that you can’t seen any other platform from each other. Eventually each will have a roof. There will also be a platform for dining and hanging out, and in the rainy season guests will each have their own canoe to explore the lake. I can’t wait to go back and look for manatees from my very own platform!

 The villagers had captured a turtle because they think they eat all the fish. I offered to pay for it so I could release it back into the lake.

Freshwater mussel shells wash up on the lake shore… I wasn’t able to find any live ones but I did collect a bunch of shells, because if manatees are eating them I should see the chemical signature in the stable isotopes (photo courtesy of Heather Arrowood, OELO)

On my day off we took an early morning walk to a beautiful savannah nearby.

Down by the creek in the center of this photo, we saw fresh tracks from elephants and antelope. Heather and Cyrille have also seen gorilla tracks here before. In the future they hope to build an observation platform.

On the last day while we were out in the boat we saw a huge troop of red-capped mangabeys coming down to the edge of the lake. They seemed very tame (especially since right across the lake was a logging company sawmill)

If you’d like to learn more about visiting Tsam Tsam, please visit their Facebook page at:

We also did a night survey, but unfortunately didn’t see any manatees. I wish I could’ve spent more time exploring the lakes, but hopefully I’ll get back here next year in the rainy season!

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