A female elephant with her calf in the Gamba Complex of Protected Areas
A female elephant with her calf in the Gamba Complex of Protected Areas

Shell Gabon, the first sub-Saharan oil company to be ISO 14001-certified (since 2000), operates along the borders of two National Parks, in the area between Moukalaba Ndouguou Park and Loango Park, in the protected areas of Gamba also known as the “industrial corridor”.

This is a buffer zone where, according to studies carried out since 2007 by the Smithsonian Institution in partnership with Shell Gabon, the biodiversity is one of the richest of all of Central Africa’s tropical forest plains, and it is also a natural habitat for numerous elephant populations.

Shell Gabon, a pioneer oil company in the region, is investing and supporting programmes for the preservation of biodiversity and the protection of elephants, working closely with the Directorate-General for the Environment (DGE), the National Parks Agency (Agence des Parcs Nationaux - ANPN) and local NGOs, particularly on anti-poaching measures, biodiversity awareness campaigns for local communities, scientific research and the resolution of problems relating to human and elephant interactions.

As an example of coexistence, there is a remarkable ambience in Gamba, where Shell Gabon staff live alongside elephants. “It’s amazing to see these pachyderms calmly striding along the roads in our camp,”said a Shell Gabon employee who lives in Yenzi Camp (Shell’s residential camp in Gamba). “I don’t know of anywhere else in the world where you can work, live an ordinary family life and see animals like this so close up every day.’’

Installation of photographic traps by Dr Mireille Johnson
Installation of photographic traps by Dr Mireille Johnson

To ensure that its staff can live safely alongside elephants, the company has arranged educational and learning schemes teaching them the correct behaviour to adopt in this forest environment. Warning signs have been installed along the roads, alerting those passing to the presence of elephants, and information and awareness sessions on how to behave in the presence of elephants are held throughout the year.

In an effort to extend this way of life to everyone living in the area, Shell Gabon, through its partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, is funding a programme to preserve biodiversity and protect elephants. The programme is led by Dr Mireille Johnson, a Gabonese scientist from the Smithsonian Institution. “The objective of my research is to learn more about the distribution of groups of elephants living in close proximity to human populations,” she says. “My team and I are identifying and counting the types of elephant visiting plantations and villages. This means we can determine the profile of elephants that give rise to tension, establishing whether these are males on their own or in groups, or families consisting of females and calves, or migrant or resident individuals.”

Photographic trapping data collected since 2011 have identified more than thirty (30) different elephants passing through Shell Gabon’s Yenzi Camp in Gamba. The images provide invaluable information so that each elephant can be recognised, and the number and composition of groups can be observed.

Photographic trapping is also used to document elephant raids into the Gamba population’s manioc, banana and taro plantations. All this furthers our understanding of the elephants’ social organisation.