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Kofung Private Forest – the Home of Indigenous Flora and Fauna

My Magazine 2023/05
4 min
The Gambia once used to be a land of diverse flora and fauna. Vast savannas offered a home to herds of antelopes, amongst which elephants were strolling, showing their magnificence, and lions controlled the animal kingdom. Woodlands offered shelter to many West African mammals, but with population growth and settlement spread, the animal territory became scarcer. Added to that were the influence of the drought and additional unsustainable hunting activities that caused the extinction of many animal species in The Gambia at the beginning of the 20th century.

Today, The Gambia still hides some of the mammal species of the animal world, which are a real sight to the eyes, especially when seen in the natural environment. More so because they became rare and, therefore, more appreciated. 

Based on these observations, Gambian natural reserves still offer a home to spotted hyenas, aardvarks, warthogs and antelopes, mongooses, ferrets, servals, etc., and it is even believed there are still some leopards hiding around. 

Together with the animal species, some of the floral species are rare today due to the shrinking of the forest areas. Black velvet tamarinds, “taalo”,(Detarium Senegalense) “mampato” (Parinari curatelifolia) and “sedem” (Ziziphus Mauritiana) were some of the favourite »bush snacks« accessible with a short arm stretch towards the trees growing beside roads. If found, either in nature or on the markets, the faces of older generations light up with smiles as those fruits remind them of their childhood tree climbing in which to find delicious snacks from the trees and bushes. Calabash tree used to have great significance as the fruit from the tree was used as a cooking utensil or part of the traditional instrument. Today, it can only be found in remote village areas. 

Most of the forest area in The Gambia is under governmental and, more recently, communal jurisdiction. Yet, not all sites are protected from intruders looking for valuable amounts of construction wood or unsustainable animal hunt. 

Kofung Private Forest is located in the Kombo South District, in the West Coast Region, on the outskirts of Gunjur settlement. It is one of the rare privately-owned forests in The Gambia. Dr Bakary Touray, the owner of the forest, is a passionate environmentalist determined to preserve the indigenous tree species in his jewel of greenery spreading over 26.5 hectares of land. Throughout our chat with him, we could feel how important it is to preserve the natural treasures of his homeland for future generations, and this is what he is trying to achieve with fencing and safeguarding what has now become an island of woodland due to the constructions taking place on all four sides. 

The forest is so much more important because it gives home to some of the rare animal species. Trailcams, set by Brian Ringstead of the Gunjur Project for two weeks in 2021, identified not only the Patas monkey, which is usually quite a common sight but also antelope and one of the species of mongoose that is frequenting safe woodland areas of The Gambia. The forest is also home to a variety of medicinal plants.

To continue his conservation mission, Dr Touray established Kofung Lodge at the entrance of the forest, which can accommodate up to 12 visitors who wish to spend their time in Gunjur in total peace and relaxation amidst indigenous greenery. 

Furthermore, Dr Touray is keen on improving the vegetation cover by extending his tree nursery, which is now boasting several indigenous species such as mahogany, African rosewood, and also some exotic species such as ylang-ylang, macadamia tree and especially, what he explains to be a valuable source of staple food in the Pacific Islands, breadfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllous). Many of the indigenous members of the tree nursery are now planted and growing in the gardens of his lodge, while the rest are still being taken care of in his home garden, which is, by the way, a little piece of heaven on Earth. Not only does it brag with various plants from all over the world, but it also gives back to the local community by allowing families from the village to grow their vegetable crops where there is security and easy access to water. 

Kofung Forest Eco-lodge is also a heaven for beekeepers, as there are hives hosting bees installed not only at the periphery of the forest but also hanging from the branches of the tree, as this is a way to attract more bees to produce honey there. 

Taking a stroll through the path dividing the Kofung Forest in half, we could enjoy the view of some magnificent old trees that remained untouched. We enjoyed freshly collected forest fruits and detached from the stressful world entirely. 

This is also one of the visions of the Kofung Forest Eco Lodge. To provide a relaxing haven for all travellers who want to return to nature and appreciate the unspoilt environment.  

One of the plans for the future is to create hides inside the forest to allow visitors to spot animals residing in their natural environment and create a herbal/botanical trail inside the forest area to educate and sensitize nature lovers about the importance of local vegetation. 

The lodge is a beautiful hideout for bird lovers. The Gambia can be proud to host more than 560 bird species, more than seventy of which can be spotted in the environs of the Kofung forest. Sitting areas around the lodge can provide many photo opportunities. With their upcoming library of spotted birds in the area and arranging a skilled birdwatching guide, the experience can be even more fulfilling. 

So, visit this wonderful piece of green haven and detox from the bustling sounds and hectic world.
 

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