I went to primary school in Gunjur and then to high school in Sifoe before graduating in 2008. After school I went to do voluntary work for with an NGO called GEPADG (Gunjur Environmental Protection and Development Group) as an ecotourism officer and was also awarded a diploma in Travel Tourism and Business Studies after two years of study in Bakau.
In 2014, while working for GEPADG, I created a wildlife club called the Gunjur Project Birding and Nature Club which was generously sponsored by Brendan and Jenny Ringstead at the Gunjur Project Lodge. Together we engaged children from the local schools to appreciate and learn about the great variety of bird species in The Gambia. We took the children on exciting excursions to Bolong Fenyo Community Wildlife Nature Reserve next to the fishing village in Gunjur. In the summertime the management at Gunjur Project Lodge organised summer study classes for the local students in our community so we could teach them how to use field guides like ‘Birds of The Gambia and Senegal’ and equipment such as binoculars and scopes. I was also invited to join the team at Kartong Bird Observatory to learn about bird ringing. This helped me to identify many more species and improved my birdwatching skills.
In 2017 I was lucky enough to meet Dr Roy Armstrong, a senior lecturer from the University of Cumbria in the UK, through my connections with Brendan and Jenny. I got involved with Roy’s group of Zoology students and supported them with data collection activities at different sites across The Gambia. After they had returned to the UK, I continued to monitor a network of remote camera traps for them collecting vital information on Gambian birds, mammals and reptiles.
In March 2019, I got another lucky break as I met Dr Mic Mayhew who had been working with primates in The Gambia for many years and was looking to recruit a team for a 3-year red colobus project. Mic was Roy’s colleague from the university, and they were both friends of the Gunjur Project Lodge. After a recommendation from Brendan and Jenny and a long interview, I was appointed as the project manager with almost no experience of working with monkeys! I then travelled up country for 5 days with Mic to the main project site at Sambel Kunda in the Central River Region. It was my first visit to CRR and a great experience for me. I saw my first truly wild troops of Temminck’s red colobus and learned a lot about the project vision, and the culture and hospitality of the local people.
My role as a project manager is to lead and manage my team of 6 rangers. I am responsible for successful delivery, budget oversight, marketing and promotions as well as networking with national and international partners, funders, and consultants. I support my staff and ensure that the delegation of tasks is effective so that project activities and outputs can be delivered on time and within budget. Those activities include primate research and monitoring programmes, the development of tree nurseries and woodlots, community engagement and education programmes and the development of exciting opportunities for primate-based ecotourism.
Above all I am motivated by the environmental challenges facing The Gambia and the opportunities that I have with my team to protect one of the rarest monkeys in Africa for the benefit of all my Gambian brothers and sisters. Success will depend upon our abilities to sensitise and build strong trust-based relationships with the local communities. I think the cutting and charcoal burning will stop and as the tourists discover how special these forests are, the communities will see the value in preserving them.