Were you interested in conservation from a young age?
As a young boy, my parents did not have a lot of money to help me and my brothers. So I guided tourists on canoes in the Ogooué Basin, to see hippos, monkeys and manatees. Later, at university, my friends liked to go hiking, and we trained young people about nature. We wrote a magazine, ‘The Cry of the Pangolin’, to teach children in schools. That’s how I got interested, and studied Ecology.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Gabon’s elephants?
I’m very optimistic. It’s true that that the overall situation for forest elephants, of which Gabon has the largest population, is critical. We are working hard to avert tragedy and give hope to this species, and to future generations so they can share our heritage.
Are you happiest out in the forest… or in the city?
I worked for more than 20 years out in the forests, far from cities. I was carrying out wildlife inventories, and helping create our 13 National Parks in Gabon. Nowadays I’m a hybrid man, still doing fieldwork but also fighting political and administrative battles, launching information campaigns, going wherever I can to spread the message of conservation.
If someone was visiting Gabon for the first time, what is the single most important natural wonder that they should see?
Gabon is a delicious cocktail of nature and culture, and you are putting me in the position of an old man with many wives who hesitates to cause offence by saying which is his favourite! But if people want to see hippos and crocodiles surfing in the waves and elephants on the beaches they should go to Loango National Park. For plants- begonias and orchids- it’s Monts de Cristal NP. For the great apes and monkeys its Lopé NP. For whales, turtles and dolphins, go to Mayumba NP. But the amazing thing is you can see so many of these species just 14 minutes from Libreville, at Pongara NP.
And finally…Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon will sadly not be playing in the football World Cup in Russia..so who are the people of Gabon supporting?
Yes, it’s a pity Gabon are not there, as we have some great players. Well, we’ll have to support our near neighbours; the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Lions of Teranga of Senegal. You see how important animals are in our culture, as names and totems. Sometimes we have to ask - people and animals- who is really protecting who?!