After the Fang peoples left in the first half of the 20th century, the region of Minkébé became an immense expanse of forest with no human population settled there on a permanent basis.
The name Minkébé comes from the Fang word 'Minkegbe', which means 'valleys' or 'ditches'. Historically speaking, the designation of the park of Minkébé derives from the former French army control point which was set up circa the 1920s and dismantled from 1930 on.
The Minkébé national park, with its surface area of 7,565 km2, is located in the north-easternmost part of Gabon. Minkébé belongs to a diversified habitat-rich tropical moist forest. It is home to distinctive ecosystems and species that are uncommon in Gabon. It is one of Africa's least damaged forests and Gabon's largest unpopulated block of forests. The massif comprises trees that are several years old as well as a network of trails created by elephants.
Thousands of swampy clearings break the forest's uniformity.
It is the showcase for the cathedral forest. It posseses a diversity of fauna and flora species as well as bornhardts, also called Inselbergs, which offer a stupendous sight of the forest as far as the eye can see. The landscape is dominated by rocks overlooking the forest canopy, which are covered with grassland-type vegetation, including cactus-like plants.
Accessing the park
The Minkébé park can be accessed either by water route or by road. Four big rivers make it possible to discover the heart of this large forest by water route on a pirogue.
There exist hotel facilities in Makokou and Oyem, which are serviced by scheduled flights.
Minkébé consists of a diversity of ecosystems (wetlands, primary and secondary forests), the Guinea-Congo moist evergreen rainforest. This forest is dominated by leguminosae (Limbali, Okan, Engona). One can also observe a significant colony of moabi tree species.
An significant population of African elephants comprising about 30,000 individuals are present within the forest of Minkébé. 64 species representing 19 families have been numbered at Minkébé, with 11 orders identified. Minkébé is one of the areas richest in primates with 16 species including gorillas and chimpanzees (decimated by the Ebola virus around the 1990s), balck colobuses and mandrills. Also, very rare mammals such as the bongo, the largest of forest antelopes, and the giant forest pig, the largest among wild boars, whose main populations are to be found there, as well as the cercopithecus of Brazza. Water fauna species such as crocodiles, false gavials, terrapins, otters, and Goliath herons are also present.
Baka pygmy, Fang, Kota and Kwèl populations live in the vicinity of the park. These populations possess a very rich cultural heritage, e.g. the Kota mask, the forest spirit, Baka Edzengui, or the Kwel Deke dance …
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Since being established as a provisional reserve in 2000 until its integration into Gabon's national parks network in August 2002, Minkébé has received technical, financial and logistical support from the WWF who works in partnership with the Ministry of Forestry Economy and the Conseil National des Parcs Nationaux (National Parks Board).
The national park is rated as a 'IUCN critical site' and is being proposed as a UNESCO 'world heritage' site.
In the peripheral area of the park, a protocol on hunting management within Bordamur's and EFNB's forest concessions has been adopted and is being implemented by the signatories, namely the Ministry of Forestry Economy, the Governorate of the province of Woleu-Ntem, Bordamur company and the surrounding villages. This protocol takes into account the interests of conservation, logging and local communities on matters relating to hunting and fishing .
In the same vein, two memoranda of understanding for the management of hunting activities in the north-eastern periphery of the park between the Ministry of Forestry Economy, the Ministry of Mines, the Administration and representatives of the local people, are being finalized.
Thanks to support from Carpe Usaid, the NGO Edzengui was set up in Minvoul for promoting conservation efforts and contributing to the valuing of the Baka culture.
Prospects in regional management
The Minkébé national park is also embarked in a conservation process at regional level with the establishment of the Dja- Odzala-Minkébé Tri-National (TRIDOM). Under that agreement, the state parties to the agreement (Cameroon, Congo and Gabon) have committed themselves to cooperating, implementing and managing in partnerhip the complex of transboundary protected areas (Dja-Odzala-Minkébé) with its interzone in order to promote conservation, the rational use of natural resources and sustainable development for the benefit of the local communities with a view to contributing to poverty alleviation. The TRIDOM covers 140,000 km2, that is, 7.5 % of the Congo Basin's forests .