The Biodiversity of Gabon’s Wonga Wongue Presidential Reserve


Wonga Wongue Presidential Reserve pic

Wonga Wongue Presidential Reserve

Over the course of his more than 25-year career as an animal manager and trainer, Josh Ruffell has worked with a wide variety of species in the United States, Japan, Australia and around the globe. Currently a freelance animal trainer for the movie and television industry, Josh Ruffell’s experience also includes serving as a wildlife consultant on multiple seasons of the television series Survivor. The series’ 17th season was filmed in the Wonga Wongue Presidential Reserve in the central African country of Gabon.

Located in Gabon’s northwest region, on the Atlantic coast, the Wonga Wongue Presidential Reserve encompasses 500,000 hectares. The biodiverse area contains a range of landscapes, including lush green savannas and dense jungle. Dunes in the reserve reach as high as 300 meters, and erosion has carved out natural amphitheaters of red and white clay.

A protected area, the Wonga Wongue Presidential Reserve is also home to diverse species of animals. During the shooting of Survivor: Gabon, contestants and crew encountered elephants, a leopard, and a 12-foot python, though none of these encounters resulted in any harm to those involved in the production or to the animals. Antelopes, hippopotami, lowland gorillas, panthers, colobus monkeys, and red river hogs also live there, and turtles and various birds lay their eggs on the reserves white-sand beaches.

Reptiles pic

Reptiles at Australia Zoo

Reptiles pic


Josh Ruffell graduated the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College in 1999. Since then, Josh Ruffell has served as an exotic animal trainer and manager in the film and television industry and as a curator and assistant curator at Australia Zoo, where his responsibilities included overseeing reptiles.

Australia Zoo houses and displays a number of reptile species, such as:

Boas and pythons: The zoo is home to a variety of nonvenomous snakes, including the reticulated python, the boa constrictor, and the black-headed python. These animals constrict their prey and eat primarily birds and mammals although the black-headed python is also known for eating other reptiles. One of the zoo’s residents, the reticulated python, can grow to more than 26 feet in length.

Crocodiles and alligators. Visitors to the zoo can observe two species of crocodile — freshwater and saltwater — and also American alligators. Continuing the efforts of television personality and crocodile expert Steve Irwin, the zoo also engages in crocodile conservation. Annual research is carried out at the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve in Queensland in partnership with the University of Queensland.

Turtles and tortoises: The zoo celebrates an ancient reptile that is known from fossil discoveries to have lived 200 million years ago. The zoo is home to four Aldabran tortoises, which when fully grown can weigh as much as 650 pounds. Visitors can also see an alligator snapping turtle and various other freshwater turtle species.

Australia Zoo pic

Conservation Projects at Australia Zoo

Australia Zoo pic

Australia Zoo

Josh Ruffell is an animal trainer and zoo curator who has more than two decades of experience working with animals in the zoo and movie and television industry. Most recently, Josh Ruffell served as Assistant Curator at Australia Zoo in Queensland.

In addition to hosting many mammals, birds, and reptiles, Australia Zoo undertakes a number of conservation projects focused on specific animals in need. One such initiative is the Cassowary Conservation project.

The southern cassowary is an endangered bird notable for being a direct descendant of dinosaurs. Australia Zoo is working alongside other conservation organizations to protect and restore the bird’s natural rain forest habitat.

The Tasmanian devil is another animal Australia Zoo is working to save. These marsupials are at risk of devil facial tumor disease, a contagious form of cancer that can cause blindness and starvation. Without the continuation of protection efforts, research suggests the remaining animals in the wild, which number no more than 50,000, will be extinct within 15 years.

Australia Zoo has also established the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, in memory of the famous “Crocodile Hunter” as a tribute to his legacy. The reserve, officially declared a strategic environmental area in 2013, consists of 135,000 hectares of spring-fed wetlands that house and preserve many vulnerable species.

Conservation Projects pic

Two Important Conservation Projects Funded by Australia Zoo

Conservation Projects pic

Conservation Projects

A strong interest in reptiles from a young age eventually led Josh Ruffell to pursue a career path in wildlife care and conservation. At various points in his career, Josh Ruffell served as Curator of Reptiles and Birds as well as Assistant Curator at Australia Zoo.

Located on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, the two acre wildlife park opened in 1970 as the Beerwah Reptile and Fauna Park. Robert and Lyn Irwin, the parents of famed conservationist Steve Irwin, originally opened the park. In the early 1990s, Steve took over management and along with his wife Terri, renamed the park Australia Zoo. Today it has expanded to 1,500 acres with a staff of more than 500.

Aside from entertaining and educating visitors with wildlife displays, Australia Zoo also funds numerous conservation projects, including one for tiger conservation. It has donated more than $1.5 million to support Sumatran tiger conservation in Southeast Asia through a partnership with Fauna & Flora International.

Australia Zoo also supports the Anatolian Shepherd Dog Program in South Africa. These dogs are raised with herds of livestock and trained to bark and take protective actions to scare cheetahs and other predators away from the herd. This reduces the threat of farmers killing cheetahs when seen in the area, whose population is diminishing due to human encroachment.