MANOVO-GOUNDA-ST. FLORIS NATIONAL PARK
At the northern corner of the country is Manovo-Gounda-St.
Floris National Park and World Heritage Site, a vast wooded
savannah and floodplain drained by five major rivers
originating in the Massif des Bongo, covering some 8,800 square
miles (22,792 km2), including contiguous protected areas.
Historically the savannahs have been home to some of
Africa’s great elephant herds, plus cheetahs, lions,
leopards, wild dogs, red-fronted gazelles, hartebeest, topi,
giraffes, and buffalo, with, until recently, black rhinoceros.
A list of more than 320 bird species includes rare silvery
shoebills or whale-headed storks, ostriches, fish-eating
eagles, colorful bee-eaters and rollers, kingfishers, African
pygmy-geese, dwarf bitterns, saddle-billed storks, and bateleur
and banded snake-eagles.
Unfortunately the vast herds have been reduced drastically
along with leopards, rhinos, and others, by poachers thought to
be a spillover of civil wars in Chad and Sudan, often with
automatic weapons, outnumbering and outgunning park rangers,
some of whom have died in the conflict. Proceeds from animal
trophies have gone to buy more weapons for warfare. It’s
been quieter recently, and, as in quiet periods before, the
European Development Fund (EDF) has actively helped restore the
park. But conditions should be checked before planning a visit,
possibly with EDF offices in Bangui. The park is open from
December 1 to mid-May, accessed on the south from Bamingui,
where chartered flights arrive from Bangui and which has
lodging. It’s possible to drive the 496 miles (800 km)
from Bangui, but roads are rough and fuel stations scarce.
ALSO OF INTEREST
National Park and Biosphere Reserve to the west of
Manovo-Gounda-St.Floris, 6,488 square miles (16,800 km2),
historically with outstanding wildlife populations but recently
with some of the same problems as St. Floris, so recent
conditions should be checked before a visit.
Continuing threats to all these reserves include foreign
timber and mining concessions, poaching for “bush
meat,” and land-clearing for agriculture. On all these,
government instability and resulting unrest have reduced
urgently needed protections. This may change, as it has in some
other African countries, to a more enlightened view seeing
these places as helpful not only to wildlife but to the local
economy through ecotourism.
International visitors fly into Bangui, the capital city,
with hotels, accommodations, trip information, and (costly)
rental vehicles. Streets have not, however, always been safe
places for tourists to explore alone, especially at night.
Rainy season is May–October in the south, diminishing to
June–September in the north—but it can be muggy
year-round. Best times to visit are November–April.
Flightless ostriches are
world’s largest living birds,
six to eight (rarely up to
nine) feet tall (2–2.75 m),
weighing up to 345 pounds
(157 kg), with a lion-like
roar. Evolution has
weakened their wings
but strengthened leg
muscles so they can run
up to 40 miles an hour
(70 kph) and savagely kick
any predator that catches
up, sometimes delivering
a single fatal blow. Males
share incubation of up to
80 eggs from various
females in one nest
(tests show females
can recognize their