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Europe’s closest tropical rainforest - The Gambia’s Abuko Nature Reserve

Known as The Smiling Coast of Africa, The Gambia is only six hours flying time from London and home to 259 acres of rainforest known as the Abuko Nature Reserve.

In 1967, Kaliliu, a local man from a neighbouring village of Lamin, requested permission to enter the forest to shoot a leopard that had been killing domesticated pigs. The then Wildlife Officer, the late Eddie Brewer OBE and his daughter Stella, visited the spot, and saw an amazing richness of Gambian wildlife and flora. They realised the conservation importance of the stream running through Abuko, so they made a request to the government to protect the area. This was promptly approved and it was officially declared a nature reserve in March 1968.

In 1978, Abuko's size was extended from 188 to 259 acres and enclosed by a high fence (2.5 metre high) constructed with the help of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Today, the reserve covers an area of 105 hectares (roughly 2 square kilometres). It is rectangular in shape with a narrow strip surrounding its boundaries as an extra buffer and some 2,000 Gmelina trees have been planted to act as an extra barrier against encroachment by locals.

There are six protected wildlife management parks in The Gambia, but Abuko is the most visited tourist attraction receiving approximately 33,000 visitors per year. The Reserve is run by Department of Parks and Wildlife which charges a small entrance fee to help support efforts to protect the location and prevent the extinction of rare bird and animal species found there.

The evergreen forest gallery follows the course of the Lamin Stream and covers approximately one third of its total area. The management of the reserve is maintaining the crooked bush trails, bird photo hides, the animal orphanage and the boundary to prevent encroachment by people and livestock. There are a number of small pools at one end of the reserve, with the biggest called the Bambo (crocodile) Pool. The freshwater pond is ideal location for spotting crocodiles and birds.

Abuko Nature Reserve is within easy reach by taxi from most of the coastal resort hotels and it is an ideal first stop for birdwatchers and animal enthusiasts. There are designated guides on site to help visitors locate animals and birds while on the forest trail.

Abuko is reported to have 50 types of tropical trees. The Park’s main geographic features include a thick tropical canopy and Guinea savanna. There are an estimated 290 bird species living within the forest gallery, including Pied Kingfishers, African Paradise Flycatcher, Willow Warblers, Waxbills, Western Bluebill , Manikins, Doves, Lily Trotters, Giant Kingfisher, Palm Nut Vultures, Hammerkops, Grey Headed Bristle Bill, White Crowned Robin Chat, Lanner Falcon, Pygmy Kingfisher, Violet Turacoes, African Thrush, Fork Tailed Drongo, Black Herons, Squacco Heron, Oriole Warbler, Red Bellied Fly Catchers, Little Greenbul, Abyssinian Roller, Purple Glossy Starling & Green Touraco.

There are also 4 primate species in the Reserve: Vervet Monkey, Red Colobus Monkey, Red Patas and Bush Babies. The other mammalian types include the Grimms Duiker, Ground Squirrel, Savannah Antelopes, Bushbuck, Brush Tailed Porcupine, Civets, Sitatunga T. Spekei, Erythrocebus patas, Mungos Gambianus, Serval Felis, Heliosciurus gambianus, Thryonomys swinderianus, Galago senegalensis, Actophilornis Africana, Tauraco Persa, Gastropyxis smaragdina Crocodylus niloticus, Xerus erythropus, Cercopithecus aethiops, Palm civet Nandinia binotata and several types of rodents including the Cane Rat.

Among the reptiles in the reserve are the monitor lizard, the Nile crocodile, West African crocodile, dwarf crocodile, spitting cobra, black cobra, python, Puff adders, emerald snake and the green mamba (which is rarely seen). There are also numerous butterflies and moths such as the Saturnis.

While there you can also visit the Animal Orphanage which was set up in 1997 as a rehabilitation centre by the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management. It cares for parrots, hyenas as well as various kinds of monkeys including Chimpanzees. Also located on the reserve is the Darwin Field Station which is a research centre focused on maintaining The Gambia's biodiversity. There is also an exhibition at the Abuko Conservation Education Centre and a refreshments area close to the animal orphanage.

Visitors to the Reserve are encouraged to take the nature trail on which you will see loose leafed Guinea savanna and tree trunks covered in mud deposited by tree ants. The trail will then lead you to the main Bamboo Pool which is partly covered in water-lilies and fringed by large palms. You will then come across a wooden foot bridge which spans across a small swampy stream and goes past the first bird hide and towards the visitor's centre which was built in 1970 as a rest place for visitors. If you climb to the observation platform, it is possible to get a birds-eye-view of large lizards, numerous feathered avians and Dwarf or Nile Crocodiles (particularly in the mornings when they come out of the water to sunbath).

From this point, the trail will take you through thick, dark, vegetation, an open bright savanna which is soon interrupted by a thick jungle. On the ground, you can see numerous ground squirrels, brightly coloured beetles, vervet monkeys, soldier ants, other birds and butterflies. As you proceed, you will arrive at the Animla Orphanage which houses some vultures, hyenas, baboons, bush buck and lions.

Edited by Malick Jeng, GT Board UK. Thanks to AccessGambia.

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