African Hawk Eagle Hieraaetus spilogaster The Gambia
Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus adult, The Gambia
The problems of The Gambia are those of any country with a growing population and limited resources. Some areas, for example the coast, are under particular pressure because of mass tourism and the expanding population. The Gambians showed great foresight in establishing the Abuko Nature Reserve in 1968 thus ensuring that succeeding generations of Gambians and visitors would have the opportunity to appreciate the Guinea Savannah forest that originally covered this area of the country. Other reserves have been established at Tanji (Karinti) Bird Reserve and Bao-bolon wetland reserve. Niumi National Park (which includes Ginak Island) and Kiang West National Park provide protection for other species.
Internationally, attitudes to conservation are changing, with a greater appreciation of the need for local communities to see the tangible benefits of conserving natural resources. There are a number of projects in The Gambia which are proving successful and we hope these will be replicated and developed.
Local sanctuary projects. The West African Bird Study Association (a group of local Gambian birders including many of the local guides) have agreed with the local community at Brufut to create such a protected area as part of their campaign to protect what remains of the coastal forest. They charge visitors to enter the reserve, a proportion of this goes to the local community, providing an incentive to protect the woodland. The Gambia Birding Group UK, having made a small initial donation, encouraged WABSA to develop the area and regrets that at the moment a disagreement between WABSA and the Exmoor Falconry Centre, who provided substantial funding. There is a dispute about who is running the project. Financial accountability was one of the issues raised and we understand that WABSA have now appointed a committee to oversee this.
A WABSA project has been set up at at Bansang Quarry where the local community have agreed to help protect the Red-throated Bee-eater Merops bulocki colony. Half the area has been fenced off to protect the birds, with access to the rest of the quarry continuing for building materials. The area is staffed by members of a local youth group; the entry fees go directly to the local community. The Gambia Birding Group UK funded the cost of the fencing and a shelter, Birdfinders having funded the signs.
WABSA have also established a scheme at Marakissa Woods which are suffering encroachment at a frightening rate. The initial funding for this project was provided primarily by Birdseekers.
Community Forests to provide firewood for local people.
Operation Desertification Control An item in the Daily Observer for June 20 2006 reported on this WABSA project to plant over ten thousand seedlings of drought resistant trees. The project operates in seven villages in the North Bank and Central River Divisions. Beneficiaries include the communities of Kerr Mbuguma, Bali, Buranya and No-Kunda in the North Bank Division. The Lamin-Koto, Bani and Niani-Kunting communities, all in the Central River Division, also benefited. They were given rakes, watering cans, beehives, cutlasses and other materials. The paper reports that Lamin Jobarteh, director of WABSA, said that the majority of Gambians already feel the impact of this vicious cycle of desertification, as it has now become a real life problem which threatens the livelihood of the rural population. The desertification project in Northern Gambia, the area most prone to desert condition, he said, is funded by the Netherlands Committee and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Dry Area Region (NC-IUCN/DAS). He said that planned activities for the project will centre on sensitising the participation of rural communities on sound forest management and its rational utilisation. It is also meant to support local communities by encouraging income generating activities like beekeeping, establishment of woodlots and agro-biodiversity.
It was good to read that young school based members of WABSA from St.Augustine’s, St.Joseph’s, Presentation Girl’s, Gambia High, Muslim and SoS Heimen Meiner Senior Secondary Schools are also raising funds for this project. Taking an imaginative approach they recently ran a fashion show, using the event not only to raise funds but also to spread the message of the dangers of desertification.
Makasutu Culture Forest. This is a a successful venture that introduces visitors to the local culture and wildlife. Employing about 80 people the project has the active support of the local community who have a vested interest in protecting the woodland.
Makasutu Wildlife Trust. A newish NGO which aims to help protect the wildlife and wild habitats of The Gambia and to encourage a greater awareness, appreciation and participation in all aspects of biodiversity, its conservation and sustainable use, and the environment. For information about membership and the activities contact the trust at PO Box 2164, Serrekunda, The Gambia.
email: [email protected]
Eco tourism is recognised as an important strand in future developments, minimising the adverse impact of tourism and maximising the benefits to local communities.
There are smaller scale projects such as the restoration of the Botanical Gardens and the planting of hotel grounds with an appropriate mix of trees that will attract birds.
Projects such as the Brufut Youths and Environmental Group involve young people in cleaning up and protecting their local environment. This group is currently seeking financial assistance for basic equipment such as spades and wheelbarrows. Further information is available from Famarah Drammeh who is based at the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management [email protected]
Local support is a key factor in the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management's bid to fund a conservation project for the Tanji (Karinti) Bird Reserve and The Bijol Island. The African Bird Club and Gambia Birding Group do not have the resources to set up and run major Gambia based projects but will encourage members and users of this website to contribute directly to a variety of projects within The Gambia. There is no one "right answer" to conservation and we will support a range of approaches that recognise that conservation needs to have definable economic benefits if it is to be successful.
This leads to an important point. By visiting The Gambia you have the opportunity to contribute to this process by buying goods and services from local people. Do so with good grace, it seems utterly preferable to pay for services genuinely rendered rather than throwing a handful of biros at children who should be at school. And no, this doesn't mean that you should put up with "guides" who know nothing about bird watching. Using good guides and drivers who appreciate the birds of their country and understand the differing needs of birdwatchers who come to see, photograph, film and record the birds is an important contribution to the country's economy. Your contribution to the local Upper River and North Bank economy is particularly valuable. With many tourists limited to the developed coast the more remote areas get little benefit from tourism. The hope is that naturalists who visit The Gambia will appreciate their good fortune in being able to travel and see such diversity and recognise that they have an opportunity to make a positive contribution to protecting natural habitats.
The Gambia is party to a number of international environmental agreements including Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution and Wetlands.
The Bijol Islands in The Gambia have received protection in the form of a regular boat patrol. With funds supplied by the British High Commission to The Gambia and Wetlands International in Dakar, Senegal, the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management has obtained a 7m fibreglass boat and outboard motor, plus running costs for the first year - (BARNETT et al 2002).