As the tiniest country on the African continent, The Gambia has established itself as a bewitching place for wildlife watching. With over 600 bird species and numerous animals inhabiting its namesake river, this small African nation doesn’t disappoint when it comes to observing fauna in its natural habitat. Here’s a short guide to some of the most unique Gambia wildlife.
Chimpanzees and hippos in River Gambia National Park
One of the country’s most important wildlife projects is in the River Gambia National Park where a group of over 100 chimpanzees is now resident on Baboon Islands. Although wild chimpanzees disappeared in the country in the early 1990s, this rehabilitation project sees these primates living free in the park. While you can’t set foot on their islands, it is possible to observe the chimps from a boat tour.
This national park is also a great place for seeing other animals in The Gambia. Wildlife here includes hippos, a threatened species that has long seen its population numbers decline.
Baboons in the Makasutu Rainforest
Ginger-backed guinea baboons await in the Makasutu Rainforest, a 405-hectare (1000-acre) reserve in the west of The Gambia.
Here, troops of up to 200 animals are easily spotted thanks to their reddish-brown hair and are often to be found combing the floor of the forest for food. While it’s fairly common for these primates to get close to visitors, as with all wild animals, due caution is recommended if one does approach!
Mammals and birds in Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve
The Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve is one of the most important places for avifauna and wildlife in The Gambia. 268 bird species have been recorded here, with over 20,000 migratory water birds believed to spend time in the park between August and December. These include the common ringed plover, the black-tailed godwit and the common greenshank.
On a trip here, you can also expect to spot other species including blue-breasted kingfishers, fairy warblers, garganey ducks, northern pintails and little stints.
Mammals are also abundant in Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve, with sightings of the African clawless otter (the second largest species of otter) and the Senegal bushbaby common. What’s more, the area is home to the West African manatee, an endangered species that lives along coasts and in freshwater rivers and lakes along West Africa and is sometimes spotted in the waters here.
Monkeys, mongooses and birds in Bijilo Forest Park
Another hot spot for birdwatchers is Bijilo Forest Park situated on the Gambian coast. Here, over 130 species of birds live, including the red-billed hornbill, palm-nut vulture and long-tailed nightjar.
Around the park, it’s also possible to encounter a range of mammals. Monkeys, including green monkeys, western red colobus and Campbell’s mona monkey, exist in large troops, while mongooses and brush-tailed porcupines are shyer and less commonly seen.
When to visit The Gambia: wildlife spotting seasons
November through February is the dry season in The Gambia and therefore the ideal time for catching sight of the country’s remarkable selection of birds and wildlife.
However, for those wanting fewer crowds and lower prices, the shoulder seasons (October and March through May) are a better choice.