For avid birdwatchers, the Republic of Gambia in West Africa, is a magical place to travel on a wildlife holiday. The region is home to an abundance of avian species and a great diversity of habitats. Exploring on foot and by boat affords a wealth of opportunities to see the birdlife first hand.
The Makasutu Cultural Forest
One of the most popular and prolific places for wildlife holiday itineraries focusing on birds is the stunning Makasutu Cultural Forest, which is a private eco-tourism reserve bordering one the Mandina Bolong, one of the tributaries of the River Gambia. The reserveâ€™s 1000 acres include eco-systems in the salt flats, mangroves, savannahs, hardwood and palm forests and riverine habitats.
History of a Protected Reserve
The reserveâ€™s name comes from the Mandinka words â€˜makaâ€™ and â€˜sutuâ€™, which translate to â€˜holy forestâ€™. Local folklore tells of a mythical dragon-like animal that lived in the mangrove swamps, as well as giants and spirits known as djinns who dwelt in the surrounding woodlands. Due to the presence of these spirits, the region was left alone as a sacred place until around the twentieth century.
When migrants from Guinea settled in the area, much of the mysticism associated with the forest dissipated and it became a valuable source of agriculture and timber. By the early 1990s the forests were in danger of being lost entirely due to the human encroachment and farming activities, until two British entrepreneurs identified it as a possible site for a wilderness eco-retreat.
What was originally planned as a small retreat of just four acres of land evolved over several years, along with a plan to repopulate the native wildlife. More than 15,000 trees were planted and 70 wells dug in order to sustain them. The area was fenced in and became not only a nature reserve, but also a cultural one. The people who lived within the area of the reserve were educated and encouraged to become part of a sustainable eco-tourism venture. Today the Mandina Lodges, Cultural Centre, Craft Centre and wildlife holiday tourism activities benefit around 3,500 locals.
Encounter the Avian Species of The Gambia
There are more than 570 species of birds that make their home across the range of habitats throughout The Gambia and at least 100 of these can be seen on a wildlife holiday to Makasutu.
Around the rivers multiple species of waders, egrets and herons can be seen in large numbers, and the forests are alive with an array of sunbirds, including the Mouse-brown Sunbird and the Splendid Sunbird.
Along with a plethora of kingfishers, bee-eaters, rollers, bush-shrikes, starlings, turacos and raptors are the beautiful Senegal Parrot, Red-billed Hornbill, African Paradise Flycatcher, European Pied Wagtail, Black-crowned Tchagra, Wattled Plover, Four-banded Sandgrouse, Senegal Thick-knee and many, many more.
Beyond the Reserve
The best wildlife holiday itineraries also include day trips to the spectacular coastal habitats of Tanji. Led by expert naturalists and accompanied by local guides, nature tours to The Gambia provide some of the most memorable experiences for birdwatchers.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in birds. With a passionate interest in rare avian species, Marissa chooses the expert-led wildlife holiday itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of flora and fauna in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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