Flagship Species

Among the most endangered species that can be found in the Congo Basin rainforest, gorillas, chimpanzees and elephants are Nouabalé-Ndoki’s flagship species because of the ecosystem services they provide. They are also umbrella species: due to their size and home range, these species are a good indicator of the ecosystem health. If they are doing well, the forest should be healthy. But above all, Nouabalé-Ndoki’s flaghip species are magnificent animals, with compelling behaviors, fascinating to observe and to study.

Forest Elephants
In local languages : Nzoku (Lingala), Iya (Bendzele)
Often considered as forest engineers, elephants are particularly important for their environment: they create trails, spread seeds and dig for minerals that other species depend on. Since 2021, the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) has been distinguished from the African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana).

Formerly treated as a single species, the two species have now also a different status in the IUCN Red List, the African forest elephant being Critically Endangered, after its population fell by more than 86% over a period of 31 years. The forest elephant is distinguished by its smaller size, smaller ears and tusks.

Each individual can be easily recognized by certain characteristics: the shape, color and length of its tusks, as well as the pattern of the veins on its ears. The best way to observe forest elephants in the wild is in forest clearings, called baï or yanga. Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park has nearly 130 clearings, where the elephants come to drink, collect minerals and socialize. They are particularly active and vocal during the night.
In local languages : Ebobo
Less known than the mountain gorillas, the Western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) are distinguished by their reddish hair on top of their skulls, and share with the other gorilla subspecies their impressive size and barrel-chested body.

They are famous for the silver color of the back of the adult males, who lead their groups usually composed of several adult females and their offsprings. Western lowland gorillas’ group are generally smaller than mountain gorilla groups, and females are known to change their group membership several times over their life span.

Western lowland gorillas eat a wide variety of plants and fruits. They can be seen foraging in the swamps, up in the canopy, and scratching the ground for termites or small fungi.

While being capable of impressive displays of physical force, gorillas are generally gentle creatures and avoid physical confrontation when possible. By means of a long and careful process called “habituation” wild gorillas can get used to human presence. This allows us to get a unique opportunity to learn about the lives and behaviors of these fascinating apes.
In local languages : Mokomboso (Lingala), Sumbu (Bendzele), Seku (Mbangombe)
Omnivorous, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes) feed extremely differently depending on their environment, their group and the season. Half of their diet is usually composed of fruits, but they also enjoy leaves, bark, stems, as well as insects, eggs and nestlings. Up to 300 different food types have been recorded, and as many as 20 in a single day.

After humans, chimpanzees show the most diverse and complex tool-using repertoires of all species. They can delicately fish for termites, inserting small rods into termite mounds, as well as use large branches like clubs to break through the bark of a tree and collect the honey that hides there.

Social and curious, chimpanzees offer to observe captivating behaviors: using stones to crack nuts or cooperating to opportunisticly hunt duikers. Different chimpanzee populations have different behavioral repertoires, and specific behaviors can be culturally transmitted from parents to offspring.

A 2022 study, drawn from more than 20 years of observations at Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, reveals first evidence of lasting social relationships between chimpanzees and gorillas. Observations include playful as well as aggressive behaviors between the two species, and individuals traveling through a group of the other species to seek out another particular individual. These interactions may afford unique development opportunities that extend the individual’s social, physical and cognitive competencies.