Monte Alén National Park, Equatorial Guinea

Photo: Embassy of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea
Photo: Embassy of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea

It’s getting harder and harder to find the animals in Africa. Poaching, farming, and a lack of water have significantly dwindled their numbers. Places that once guaranteed daily big five sightings now have to hope for weekly ones. The size of migrating herds is now half, sometimes even a quarter, of what they used to be. Is there a secret spot in which the animals are hiding?

Yes! If you’re looking for western lowland gorillas, African forest elephants, and chimpanzees, at least. They live in Monte Alén National Park. The dense, tropical forest covers a 1,400-square-mile area in Río Muni that’s been protected since 1990. Thousands of types of birds and nearly 4,000 gorillas call the area home. It’s unspoiled, quiet, and, to many, unknown.

The national park has remained under the radar due to its location in Equatorial Guinea. The Central Africa country, sandwiched between Cameroon and Gabon, is the only Spanish-speaking country on the continent. Though only the size of Maryland, it’s a huge oil producer known for its corruption and abysmal human rights records. The animals remain safely out of thought and sight.

Photo: dsg-photo.com (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: dsg-photo.com (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
But that doesn’t mean you can’t explore the park. Trails lead up Monte Alén and Monte Mitra, around Lago Atoc, and over to Cascada Mosumo. The paths to the mountains, the lake, and the waterfall are overgrown, arduous, and slippery. The Rio Uoro, a fast-flowing river, runs along the northern border. While campsites and a simple hotel, Hotel Monte Alén, offer sweeping views of the green valley.

You see bristle-nosed barbets and speckled tinkerbirds along your hike. Plus, you can hear black guineafowl, though you’ve yet to catch a glimpse of their bare pink heads. West African crocodiles glide through the water; you’re hoping not to see them. But you keep your eyes peeled for the chimpanzees, the gorillas, and the elephants.

You see the chimps first. Or rather, they see you. A group of young chimps confidently run up to you, stopping only feet away. The gorillas are harder to find, but once you catch a glimpse, you stand and silently watch a 500-pound male for nearly 30 minutes. His back may be turned to you, but he definitely knows you’re there. While you don’t see an elephant until it’s almost time to leave. The flat-trumpet sound you hear by the water couldn’t come from anything else, though. You kneel by a tree and watch a mother and its baby splash in the river. It’s their secret spot, and you aren’t about to share it.

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