The 71,070 ha Gola Rainforest National Park is a protected tract of the highly fragmented Upper Guinea Rainforest ecoysystem.
It is one of Sierra Leone’s premier birding sites and the most likely place in which to see many of the country's 'flagship' birds and for those with very experienced, specialist guides, perhaps some of the mammals.
The botanical inventory includes some 899 plant species of which almost half are unique to the Upper Guinea Forest band.
The area is classified as an IBA (Important Bird Area) due to a notable presence of 'specials' of the Guinea-Congo rainforests.
Among the sought-after rarities birding enthusiasts come to seek are Rufous fishing owl; the odd-looking White-breasted guineafowl and endangered Gola malimbe, a highly localised member of a colourful group of rainforest-dwelling weavers. High up on the 'wish list' of visiting birders is the bizarre White-necked picathartes (rockfowl).
Mammals are rarely seen other than on researchers' camera traps; those present include the scarce Zebra duiker; the ultra - elusive Pygmy hippo and primates such as Western chimpanzee (usually heard rather than seen); Upper Guinea (Western) red colobus; Western pied (King) colobus and the striking Diana monkey. Persecution by hunting for bushmeat has made the diurnal primates extremely skittish. Three species of Pangolin have been recorded, all of which are very rare. (Most observations made by experienced mammal-watchers in the last decade have been of the White-bellied tree pangolin).
26 species of rodent and shrew have been recorded, as well as 24 bat species. There is a known site for 'leks' of the huge and bizarre (and very noisy) Hammer-headed bat.
Researchers have found 43 amphibian and 13 reptiles so far. (It is an important site for the Critically endangered Tai toad). Some 80% (600 species) of the country's approximately 750 butterfly species have been recorded in the park.
Thanks to investment from the RSPB and the European Union, the guiding at Gola is among the best in the country and the reserve uses sophisticated GPS equipment to record wildlife and bird sightings. Camera traps have confirmed the presence of African forest buffalo and Leopard in the reserve. Regulations dictate that visitors need to be accompanied by park staff including a community guide.
We will take care of all the necessary arrangements including park permits. Your guides will also teach you about the culture of the permanently resident host communities here.
There are three (very) basic lodges: Belebu Community Lodge is owned and run by the resident Belebu community and has 8 single rooms. It has only a shared / communal bathroom with running water. There is a dining area and a 'bari' as well as fire pit in the grounds, which are next to the school. The lodge is 40km from Kenema, south of Lalehun. (Drive time about 90 minutes).
The Belebu community guides are praised for their ability to locate forest wildlife including various monkey species and rare birds.
The small Diana Monkey Lodge is inside the National Park, in Gola South. It has three rooms with double beds and a shared/communal bathroom. From the site there are two half-day forest trails which are rewarding for various monkeys including the Western red colobus and Diana monkey and there's good birding to be had. Adventurous travellers can combine a stay here with a night's camping along the Mahoi River. (This is one of the rivers along which people can try to glimpse Pygmy hippo - best attempted in March -April).
Lalehun - Gola Rainforest Conservation Centre: this is about an hour's drive (40km) from Kenema, in Gola Central.
You would want to come here to seek various mammals and some of the most sought-after birds including those two flagship species, White-necked rockfowl and Gola malimbe
December 2019 update: installation of solar panels has been completed at Lalehun and Silety. Please take halogen lamps if you enjoy reading; pack a good torch with spare batteries, and take plenty of insect repellent. We also advise our guests to pack a towel, some soap (and any other personal toiletries).