Abuko Nature Reserve was the Gambia's first reserve and is located in the Western Region (WR), (geographical coordinates: 13.41°N, 16.65°W). Part of it was accorded a form of 'protected status' back in 1916 when the source of the Lamin (Bolon) Stream was fenced to form a water collection point. In 1967 a local Gambian man called Kalilu requested the then acting wildlife officer, Eddie Brewer (OBE), to shoot a leopard that had been killing their pigs which had been feeding there illegally. When he visited the spot with his daughter, Stella, they saw an amazing richness of Gambian wildlife and flora and realised the conservation importance of the stream running through Abuko. They made a request to the government to protect it which was promptly approved when it was officially declared a nature reserve in March 1968.
Abuko's size was extended from 188 to 259 acres in 1978 and enclosed in a 2.5 metre fence with the help of the WWF. It is among six protected wildlife management parks and covers an area of 105 hectares (roughly 2 sq. km). The park is rectangular in shape with a surrounding narrow strip around its boundaries acting as an extra buffer zone. Later in its development 2,000 malina trees were planted to act as an extra barrier against encroachment by locals. Today, Abuko is the Gambia's most visited tourist attraction receiving approximately 33,000 visitors per year. One interesting fact is that it is the nearest tropical forest to Europe.
The evergreen forest gallery follows the course of the Lamin Stream and covers approximately 1/3 its total area. Efforts are being concentrated on maintaining the crooked bush trails, bird photo hides, the animal orphanage as well as the boundary to prevent encroachment by people and cattle. There are a number of small pools at the bottom end or the reserve with the biggest being called the Bamboo Pool. In and around the freshwater pond is the ideal location to spot crocodiles and birds. Its location is within easy reach by taxi from any of the main coastal holiday resorts. It is an ideal first stop for birdwatchers and animal enthusiasts as well as tourist in general. There are designated guides on site to help you locate animals and birds while on the forest trail and a tip is always appreciated though not mandatory.
The conservation of the animals and plants is managed by the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management who are based at the Darwin Field Station for Biodiversity. There main aim is to protect the location and prevent species extinction and helps to fund its activities by charging day trippers an entrance fee.
Fifty types of mature tropical trees have been recorded in the protected area. Abuko's main geographic features are several kinds of habitat starting with thick tropical canopy which after 50 to 100m from the stream gives way to Guinean savanna. Probably due to increased borehole water removal the natural habitat has seen the gradual disappearance of mature tropical tree of which the most obvious is the A. Procera and the E. Guineensis. For non experts the trees are labelled.
It has been estimated that there are over 290 bird species living within the forest gallery. Among the birds are Pied Kingfishers, African paradise flycatcher, Willow Warblers, waxbills, western bluebill , manikins, doves, lily trotters, giant kingfisher C. maxima, palm nut vultures, hammerkop Scopus umbretta, Ceryle rudis, grey headed bristle bill, white crowned robin chat, grey backed camaroptera, lanner falcon, pygmy kingfisher, violet turacoes, African thrush, fork tailed drongo, black Herons, squacco heron, oriole warbler, Black crake, red bellied fly catchers, little greenbul, yellow breasted apalis, cattle egrets, Abyssinian roller, purple glossy starling & the Green Touraco.
There are 4 primate species: Vervet monkey, Red Colobus monkey, red Patas and Bush Babies. The other mammalian types include the Grimms Duiker, Ground Squirrel, Savannah Antelopes, Bushbuck Colobus badius, Tragelaphus, Brush Tailed Porcupine, Viverra civetta, 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 rodent including the Cane Rat.
There are five, perhaps only four, monkey species in The Gambia and all are under threat. The main problems are habitat destruction, hunting of crop raiders and illegal capture for medical research. The information presented here was collected during a long-term study from March 1978 to September 1983 on the socio-ecology of the red colobus monkey in the Abuko Nature Reserve. Further information was collected during brief periods between February 1985 and April 1989 on the presence of monkeys in the forest parks. It is not systematic nor extensive, but it indicates clearly that action is needed if monkeys are to remain as part of the country's wildlife. The most pressing need is for survey work to supply the information needed to work out a conservation plan.
Among the reptiles at the park are the Monitor Lizard, Nile Crocodile, West African crocodile, Dwarf Crocodile, Spitting Cobra, black cobra, Python sebae, Puff Adders, Emerald snake and the Green Mamba although it is rare to see.
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 DPWM. 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, the Abuko Conservation Education Centre and refreshments area which are concentrated around the animal orphanage.
Starting you trek you will first come across loose leafed Guinea savanna you will see trunks covered in mud deposited by tree ants. The trail later drops towards 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 a small swampy stream and goes past the first bird hide and towards the visitor's centre. This building was built in 1970 as a rest house for visitors. If you make your way up 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 you follow the nature trail which leads you to thick, dark, lush vegetation. As you turn left you will see the first glimmering of open bright savanna which is soon interrupted by more thick jungle which is interspersed at ground level with huge trunks and large root systems. If you look carefully you can see numerous ground squirrels, brightly coloured beetles, vervet monkeys, soldier ants, birds and butterflies. As you continue along the cooked path leading along the southeast you will arrive at an enclosure housing some vultures and hyenas at the Animal Orphanage. There is a kiosk here where you can enjoy some refreshments. In the next enclosure you can observe Crowned cranes, baboons and bushbuck and next to them you will come across a few lions. From this area there is a path that veers off towards the exit if you are feeling a little tired by this time. A walk along the trail can take you a couple of hours though there is a short-cut route.
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