Where to see animals in The Gambia

A journey to Africa must include observing animal life. Although there are no “Big 5” in The Gambia, there are over 500 bird species and many other animals to be spotted, which makes it a heavenly destination for animal lovers. Animal and bird-life is extremely diverse and exotic. Wildlife of the Gambia is dictated by several habitat zones over its total land area of about 10,000 square kilometres.

Many people visiting animal parks and nature reserves have high hopes of spotting their favourite animals, but it is good to remember that these animals are not orphans and are not kept in a confined area (because of health or other reasons), they live in natural habitats. It means that you can’t always see all animal species you wish because of timing, both the time of the days 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.

BIRDLIFE

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 destination for ornithologists. 

We have an article about birdwatching in every My Magazine’s issue. To access previous issues click HERE.  

Photo Credit: Jana Šnuderl

PRIMATES

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 a short tail and are medium-sized, usually brown or dark coloured.

The country has 6 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. 

You may be interested to know more about Temminck’s Red Colobus Monkey Conservation project – click HERE.    

Chimpanzees are located in The Gambia National Park, where 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. 

Photo Credit: Miha Godec

SMALL ANTELOPES

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 bambo 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.

HIPPOS

Hippos can be spotted at the River Gambia National Park. It offers an amazing experience and chance to look inside the natural environment of animals living 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 rainforest, 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. 

Photo Credit: Miha Godec

From National Geographic

Hippopotamuses love water, which is why the Greeks named them the “river horse.” Hippos spend up to 16 hours a day submerged in rivers and lakes to keep their massive bodies cool under the hot African sun. Hippos are graceful in water, good swimmers, and can hold their breath underwater for up to five minutes. However, they are often large enough to simply walk or stand on the lake floor, or lie in the shallows. Their eyes and nostrils are located high on their heads, which allows them to see and breathe while mostly submerged.

Hippos also bask on the shoreline and secrete an oily red substance, which gave rise to the myth that they sweat blood. The liquid is actually a skin moistener and sunblock that may also provide protection against germs.

At sunset, hippopotamuses leave the water and travel overland to graze. They may travel 6 miles (10 kilometers) in a night, along single-file pathways, to consume some 80 pounds (35 kilograms) of grass. Considering their enormous size, a hippo’s food intake is relatively low. If threatened on land hippos may run for the water—they can match a human’s speed for short distances.

Hippo calves weigh nearly 100 pounds (45 kilograms) at birth and can suckle on land or underwater by closing their ears and nostrils. Each female has only one calf every two years. Soon after birth, mother and young join schools that provide some protection against crocodiles, lions, and hyenas.

Hippos once had a broader distribution but now live in eastern central and southern sub-Saharan Africa, where their populations are in decline.

OTHER MAMMALS

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 hyena which prowl by night; neither species is seen often.

CROCODILES

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 a unique experience of touching the real-life crocodile. Alongside with 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 by its healing powers of the water. In addition to tourist and spiritual aspect, the place is 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 Folonko Crocodile pool, a murky green, lily-choked swamp in a deep grove. 

LIZARDS AND CHAMELEONS

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, swiveling eyes, and rapid color-changing abilities, may be spotted in trees or bushes. Watching a chameleon hunt is an engrossing experience.

Photo Credit: Kaja Horvat

SNAKES

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 is the black-and-tan, rodent-eating rock python and the smaller, stocky royal python, which shelter in burrows.

The best place to see the snakes at close range is to visit the reptile farm.

Photo Credit: Miha Godec

TROPICAL FISH

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.

DOLPHINS

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.

SPIDERS, SCORPIONS AND BUGS

On the invertebrate front, spiders and scorpions and various other bugs, including fascinating praying mantises, are encountered less often than you might expect. 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 the flutter in clouds at the edge of forest and in sunny clearings.

TURTLES PROTECTION PROJECTS

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 experience to spot an adult turtle in the ocean or coming ashore to nest. In addition, a baby turtle release may be one of the most meaningful lifetime experience. 

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 contact them directly or you can send e-mail to info@my-gambia.com and we will connect you with them.  

DONKEYS, HORSES, CAMELS & MORE

Photo Credit: Horse and Donkey Trust The Gambia

The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust (GHDT) is a small NGO that was established in 2002. It was founded by two animal loving sisters, Stella Brewer Marsden and Heather Armstrong who had lived in The Gambia since 1957 when their parents came to the country to work. Their father, Eddie Brewer, worked in forestry originally but then went on to set up the Wildlife Department and Abuko Nature Reserve. He also gazetted some of the National Parks such as The River Gambia National Park and Kiang National Park. The whole family were animal lovers and their ethos of helping all animals in need, lives on in the charity today.

If you want to know more about the project click HERE or HERE

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