26 interesting facts about Gabon

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The most interesting facts about Gabon, from “the land of the surfing hippos” and “Africa’s Last Eden” to 400,000 years of history.

Interesting facts about Gabon include its diverse wildlife
Interesting facts about Gabon include its diverse wildlife (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Gabonese Republic
Population: 2,284,912
Area: 267,667 sq km
Capital city: Libreville
Major languages: French, Fang, Myene, Nzebi, Bapounou/Eschira, Bandjabi
Major religions: Roman Catholic 42.3%, Protestant 12.3%, other Christian 27.4%, Muslim 9.8%
Time zone: UTC+1 (West Africa Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about Gabon

1. Gabon is located on the west coast of Africa and is bordered by Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and the Republic of Congo.
– Source: Britannica

2. Archaeological evidence suggests Gabon has been inhabited for over 400,000 years from the Palaeolithic, through the Neolithic and Iron Age, to the present day Bantu and Pygmy peoples.
– Source: UNESCO

3. The name Gabon comes from the Portuguese word “gabao” meaning “cloak”. Early explorers thought the estuary of the Komo River by the capital of Libreville was the shape of a cloak.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Libreville on the Komo River
Libreville on the Komo River (Shutterstock)

4. Gabon’s first contact with Europeans began with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1472. The British, Dutch and French all followed and trafficked slaves as well as ivory and tropical wood. 
– Source: Lonely Planet

5. Libreville, the capital city, was originally settled by freed slaves in 1849. Libreville means “free town” in French which imitates Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book, Lonely Planet

6. Gabon has a horizontally striped green, yellow and blue flag. The yellow represents the Equator, the green symbolizes the extensive forested area, and the blue reflects the Atlantic coast.
– Source: Britannica

Gabon's flag
Gabon’s flag (Shutterstock)

7. Gabon was a French colony from 1839 and then part of French Equatorial Africa from 1910.
– Source: BBC News

8. After becoming an autonomous republic in the French Community in 1958, Gabon gained full independence in 1960.
– Source: BBC News

9. Gabon is one of 13 countries that the Equator passes through. Traditionally, countries closer to the equator tend to struggle more economically due to the drawbacks caused by a hot climate which is often more unstable than more moderate-climate nations.
– Source: Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), HuffPost

10. However, Gabon is one of the region’s more stable countries and is considered to be a “high” level of human development in the latest Human Development Index (HDI), albeit the lowest-ranked of the subcategory.
– Source: BBC News, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

An equator sign in Gabon
Gabon is located on the Equator (Shutterstock)

11. 11.25% of Gabon’s territory is protected by national parkland.
– Source: Lonely Planet

12. Loango National Park in Gabon is known as “Africa’s Last Eden” and is considered one of the world’s best wildlife-watching destinations with animals such as elephants, gorillas, crocodiles and sitatunga antelopes found on its savannahs, lagoons and beaches.
– Source: Lonely Planet

13. In a 2004 National Geographic article, Gabon was described as “the land of the surfing hippos” when a photographer captured hippos playing in the ocean just off the beach in Loango National Park.
– Source: BBC News

The famous photograph of "surfing hippos"
The famous photograph of “surfing hippos” (Michael Nichols/Fair Use)

14.Gabon has just one UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda. The site is a mix of well-conserved tropical rainforest and relict savannah landscapes which are home to a wide diversity of species, including endangered large mammals, and habitats.
– Source: UNESCO

15. The site features Lopé National Park which contains the highest concentration of elephants on the planet with an estimated three per square kilometre.
– Source: Lonely Planet

16. Lopé National Park is also home to the biggest troupes of mandrill in the world.
– Source: Lonely Planet

Interesting facts about Gabon include its diverse wildlife
Mandrill in Gabon (Shutterstock)

17. The site is also home to 1,800 petroglyphs (rock carvings) as well as well-preserved remains of habitation around hilltops, caves and shelters from the Stone and Iron Ages. Together, they demonstrate 400,000 years of almost continuous history.
– Source: UNESCO

18. Gabon is home to a significant population of gorillas, the world’s largest primate.
– Source: WWF

19. However, the Ebola virus wiped out 90% of western lowland gorillas in Gabon and the Republic of Congo during outbreaks in the 1990s and 2000s.
– Source: WWF, The Conversation

A western lowland gorilla in Gabon
A western lowland gorilla in Gabon (Shutterstock)

20. Having led the country since 1967, Gabon’s second president, Omar Bongo, was Africa’s longest-serving head of state at the time of his death in 2009. Additionally, Bongo was the world’s second-longest-serving non-royal leader after Cuba’s Fidel Castro, at the time of his death.
– Source: BBC News, The Guardian

21. Gabon was settled prehistorically by Pygmies during the late Stone Age, and then by Bantu-speaking migrants during the Iron Age.
– Source: Oxford Research Encyclopedias

22. Pygmies are known for their short stature as they typically only grow to less than 1.5m (59 inches) high. Today they represent just 0.3% of the population of Gabon.
– Source: Britannica, CIA World Fact Book

23. 81% of Gabon is covered in forest.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

An elephant in Loango National Park
An elephant in Loango National Park in Gabon (Shutterstock)

24. Frenchman Albert Schweitzer won the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work in Gabon. In 1924, Schweitzer founded a hospital to treat leprosy in Lambaréné in what was then French Equatorial Africa. The hospital is still operational today.
– Source: Nobel Prize, Lonely Planet

25. Gabon is home to the world’s largest species of sea turtle, the leatherback. Leatherbacks can grow up to 7ft (2.1m) in length and weigh as much as 2,000lbs (900kg).
– Source: National Geographic, Lonely Planet

26. Gabon’s Mayumba National Park is a marine park that sees 550 leatherback turtles – 30% of the world’s total population – lay their eggs there between November and April. The park is also a mating ground for humpback whales and large groups of dolphins, including the rare humpback dolphin.
– Source: Lonely Planet

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