Many people visiting animal parks and nature reserves have high hopes of spotting their favourite animals. However, it is good to remember that these animals are not orphans and are not kept in confined areas (because of health or other reasons); they live in natural habitats. It means that you can’t always see all the animal species you wish for because of timing, both the time of the day and the time of the year; because of fear animals have when smelling or hearing people and strange sounds; because of lack of knowledge about animal habits and/or because of poor equipment if you are about to search for specific animal species.
The country has a diverse avian population. Over 560 species of birds have been recorded in this tiny West African country. Birds here have relatively few predators. The Gambia is also a regular haunt for Palearctic migrants – migratory species from Europe and Asia that spend winter in the tropics.
There are many bird-watching spots in The Gambia, and that makes it one of the most famous world’s destinations for ornithologists.
We have an article about birdwatching in every My Magazine’s issue. To access previous issues, click here.
If you are a keen birdwatcher, we suggest you combine your passion with an amazing river experience on Tanji Creek. Join kayaking in the serene environment with plenty of birdwatching opportunities.
Monkeys and baboons can most often be seen out on the street or in the bush. The main difference between monkeys and baboons is that baboons always live on the ground, their snout is elongated, they have short tail and are medium-sized, usually brown or dark coloured.
The country has six species of primates: Red Colobus Monkey, Callithrix Monkey (also known as Green Velvet Monkey), Red Patas Monkey, bushbaby, Guinea baboons (Papio papio) and chimpanzee.
There are several places where you can spot monkeys and baboons (together with other animals); Bijilo Forest Park, Abuko Nature Reserve, Makasutu Cultural Forest, Lamin Lodge, River Gambia National Park, and so much more.
Chimpanzees are located in The Gambia National Park. A unique island refuge was established more than 30 years ago for orphaned, illegally caught chimpanzees rescued from the pet trade and other exploitative industries. You can join us on a Ninki Nanka Trail and experience sporting chimpanzees in the natural environment with us.
Small antelopes are quite common in The Gambia, but they’re shy and well-camouflaged, which makes them difficult to spot. Bushbuck and Maxwell’s duiker are occasionally seen grazing near the bamboo pool at Abuko, and it’s sometimes possible to spot the rare and semi-aquatic sitatunga on the banks of the river in the Kiang West area. Small herds of the impressive, horse-sized roan antelope sometimes enter the Gambia from Senegal in search of pastures.
Two years ago, an antelope was spotted on the night cam in the private Kofung Forest. Read more about the place here.
Hippos can be spotted at the River Gambia National Park. It offers an amazing experience and the chance to look inside the natural environment of animals in The Gambia. One of the most interesting is a giant hippopotamus, the second heaviest land mammal in the world. Their ecological systems range from lush jungle rainforests, reeds, savannah and mangrove swamps. Their dense bodies make it impossible for them to swim, even though they spend most of their time in the water.
Imagine yourself on a boat spotting for hippos. You can do that as a part of the Ninki Nanka Trail trip with My Gambia.
Fearsome-tusked warthogs (known locally as bushpigs) are still relatively common in Gambian woodlands. Other woodland mammals include the curios, termite-eating aardvark and clans of hyenas which prowl by night; neither species is seen often.
Nile crocodiles are seen in the river and its creeks from time to time, particularly in the coolest months (December and January), when they often bask in the sun on the banks. They are mercilessly hunted because they occasionally attack children and domestic animals. There are also a few West African dwarf crocodiles – a miniature species that grows to less than a metre in length.
Kachikally is one of the most known places where you can spot crocodiles in The Gambia, but mostly by the touristic aspect of it. Many people visit it because of the unique experience of touching a real-life crocodile. Alongside more than 200 crocodiles living in Kachikally, you are also able to do the forest walk and learn from the exhibits in the ethnographic museum. But amongst the locals, Kachikally is known for its healing powers of the water. In addition to tourist and spiritual aspects, the place is an important historical and community spot.
If you want to know more about Kachikally, listen to our interview with Mr Bojang, Alkalo (village leader) and descendant of the Bojang family, which has been taking care of the place since the beginning by clicking HERE.
You can spot crocodiles at Abuko nature reserve, where they live in the forest and are active by night.
On the seaward edge of Kartong, near the dunes, there is the Folonko Crocodile pool, a murky green, lily-choked swamp in a deep grove.
Lizards are common everywhere, especially rock agamas, the brightly coloured males typically seen performing vigorous push-ups on sunny rocks. Large lizards include two species of monitors, of which the grey and yellow Nile monitor grows to an impressive two meters. All African lizards are harmless. Nile monitors live near water. The slightly smaller Bosc monitor is more often found out in the bush.
Chameleons, unmistakable for their prehensile tails, swivelling eyes, and rapid colour-changing abilities, may be spotted in trees or bushes. Watching a chameleon hunt is an engrossing experience.
The Gambia has around forty species of snake, all of which are elusive and most of which are harmless. The nine that are dangerously venomous, including the puff adder, the spitting cobra and the green mamba, will only strike if threatened, and walking heavily will usually scare them away. Impressive looking but harmless to humans are the black-and-tan, rodent-eating rock python and the smaller, stocky royal python, which shelter in burrows.
Gambian waters are rich in tropical fish, including barracuda, tigerfish, tarpon and Bonga, plus small sharks and rays. Particularly numerous in the mangrove creeks are tilapia, a genus found all over Africa. On any creek trip, you will also see numerous mudskippers, 10-15cm long fish that appear to be in the evolutionary process of becoming land-dwelling amphibians. Their front fins have become flippers, almost stumpy legs, and at low tide, you can see literally thousands of them skittering over the mud.
Between November and January, bottle-nosed dolphins are regular visitors to the area around Barra. The Gambia’s Atlantic coast north of Barra is sometimes patrolled by Atlantic humpbacked dolphins, endemic to this part of West Africa. Booking dolphin-watching trips has no guarantee, but the cruise is enjoyable for its own sake. It is also a heaven for bird watchers as it is located on the river mouth and the Atlantic, with a marine delta to the north.
On the invertebrate front, spiders, scorpions, and various other bugs, including fascinating praying mantises, are encountered less often than expected. Not that you won’t find an astonishing variety if you are intent on looking: the search is usually very rewarding. Butterflies, well over a hundred species in total, are numerous and colourful, especially in the rainy season when they flutter in clouds at the edge of the forest and in sunny clearings.
The Gambia is one of the countries in the world where sea turtles are coming ashore to nest. It can be one of the most unforgettable experiences to spot an adult turtle in the ocean or come ashore to nest. In addition, a baby turtle release may be one of the most meaningful life experiences. There are two very active turtle protection (and environment) organizations. One is Gunjur Conservationists Ecotourism Association and Smile For Life Gambia.
If you want to get involved, you can book your experience with My Gambia.