Prof. Lee White CBE, Executive Secretary of ANPN, today signed Gabon’s first Conservation Tourism Concession Agreements with SFM Safari Gabon, represented by Alan Bernstein, covering conservation tourism concessions in Loango and Pongara National Parks. This is the culmination of several years of work by ANPN to develop the considerable ecotourism potential of Gabon’s National Parks and represents a significant milestone in the implementation of a major pillar of Gabon’s national development plan, ‘Green Gabon’.
ANPN has spent several years identifying ideal partners for the start of a conservation tourism industry in Gabon. SFM Safari Gabon SA, a subsidiary of the SFM Africa Group which was co-founded by Alan Bernstein and Kevin Leo-Smith was formed to fulfil ANPN’s objectives. Bernstein and Leo-Smith have played a significant role as originators of conservation tourism as a business concept over the last 20 years, having served as founders of Conservation Corporation Africa (now ‘And Beyond’) and its initial conservation development initiatives in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Botswana, as well as Nomad Tanzania and Kwando Safaris in Botswana.
SFM Safari Gabon’s initial concessions in Loango National Park and Pongara National Park will facilitate the creation of the first phase of a world class safari circuit focussed on the two premier Atlantic ocean-side National Parks in Gabon. The concessions feature marine habitat, seashore, lagoons, estuaries, wetlands, tropical and swamp forests and savannahs. Gabon, renowned for its pristine habitat and incredible bio-diversity host’s vibrant populations of gorillas, chimpanzees, forest elephant, buffalo and provides sights that are rarely, if ever, seen in other African countries including leopards on the beaches and, famously, hippos in the surf. These unique characteristics of Gabon’s Parks have been featured in National Geographic documentaries and in the recently released epic BBC Africa series.
SFM Safari Gabon is subsidiary of SFM Gabon and was formed in 2012 as part of a landscape-scale sustainable development Public-Private Partnership with the Gabonese Republic. Alan Bernstein chairs the Company, with Kevin Leo-Smith serving as a member of the board of directors together with Pierre Blondel (Managing Director of SFM Gabon). The board of SFM Safari Gabon will also include well-known Gabonese hotelier Frédéric Fontaine Andjoua, and a representative of ANPN.
In terms of the Public-Private Partnership Agreement, SFM Safari Gabon will initially develop a circuit of two high-end, conservation tourism forest and beach lodges in Loango and Pongara National Parks, together with a floating lodge capable of accessing the renowned Akaka Wetland in central Loango. Further lodges in an expanded circuit in Moukalaba Doudou, Mayumba and Lope National Parks will follow this.
SFM Safari Gabon’s first phase investment will be €10m, with the first facilities opening in 2014 resulting in direct employment of 70 operational staff and an estimated 2000 visitors per year, once established.
Working closely with ANPN, SFM Safari Gabon will also develop the Loango Great Apes Institute managed by the well-known Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI). MPI have been working on gorilla and chimpanzee habituation programmes in Loango National Park for over 7 years. Viewing of both gorillas and chimpanzees will form a core part of the safari experience.
The ANPN Concession Agreements have been drawn from models that have evolved as ‘best practice’ in Africa’s traditional safari countries, to ensure that the much anticipated launch and development of Gabonese ecotourism does not lead to undue pressure on the National Parks.
Prof. Lee White CBE, head of ANPN stated that: “the signature of the first three SFM Safari Gabon concessions is an important step in the implementation of our Vision for the development of Geotourism in Gabon. In SFM Safari Gabon I feel we have identified the ideal partner to launch the destination.”