Gabon

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GABON is a small republic in west-central Africa that straddles the Equator. It comprises the land which surrounds the Ogooué river basin and its tributaries, and most of the country covered with lush tropical rainforests.

Beyond the coastal plain and the flatter land of the valley bot­toms, Gabon is ringed by upland plateaux and mountains ranging in height from 900-1,575 meters or 3,000-5,167 feet.

The forests con­tain a huge diversity of plants and animals, including commercially valu­able trees harvested for export. It was at Lambarene in east Gabon that Albert Schweitzer, the medical missionary, had his hospital.

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The climate is hot, humid, and typically equatorial with little seasonal variation. Until the 1960s, timber was virtually Gabon’s only resource, and then oil was discovered. By the mid-1980s, Gabon was Africa’s sixth-largest oil producer, and other minerals such as manganese, uranium, and iron ore were exploited.

Deposits of lead and silver have also been discovered. Much of the earnings from these resources have squandered, and around two-thirds of the Gabonese people remain subsistence farmers growing cassava, sugar cane, plantains, and yams. The country has great tourist potential, but transport links with the uninhabited interior are complicated because of the dense hardwood forests.

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Gabon’s low-lying coastal plain is narrow in the north (approximately 29 kilometers/18 miles wide) and broader in the estuary regions of the Ogooué River. Much of the coastal area is wooded, with savannah (grassland) separating the wooded coast from the interior’s rainforest. The rainforest includes some unique plants, such as climbing vines and hardwood tree species.

The land in the interior is not strictly flat plains; it is more complex but not dramatic. In the north, mountains enclose the valleys of the Woleu and Ntem Rivers and the Ivindo Basin. In southern Gabon, the coastal plain is dominated by granitic hills. Between the Ngounié and the Ogooué Rivers, the Chaillu Massif rises to 915 meters (3,000 feet). Almost the entire country is contained in the basin of the Ogooué River and its two major tributaries. The rainforests grow an encyclopedic range of flora, including climbing palms, rubber vines, liana, and hardwood trees such as purpleheart, ebony, and mahogany. The hardwoods, including the okoumé (unique to central Africa) and Ozigo tree, are harvested for their timber – a cash crop of significant value to Gabon’s economy.

Besides plant life, the rainforests’ floors and canopies also provide habitats for all sorts of animals. Snakes such as vipers and pythons slither around hunting for their prey – insects, field mice, and other unlucky small animals. Hedgehogs, porcupines, and tortoises lumber around on the forest floor, while squirrels, monkeys, baboons, lemurs, toucans, and African parrots occupy the trees. Crocodiles and hippopotamuses claim the riverbanks, and big game animals such as antelope, buffalo, and elephants roam the grasslands. Even gorillas, endangered in most other parts of Africa, are so numerous in Gabon that they have become an environmental nuisance.

Gabon borders the South Atlantic Ocean south of the Bight of Biafra and the Gulf of Guinea.

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