The wildlife in here is fantastic. We have seen so many animals and birds. The first day Ruth and Martin were here we went to Abauko Nature reserve. We had a guide who showed us lots of birds, he had a brilliant eye for spotting them. This was fantastic as we started to learn names of the colurful and beautiful birds we were seeing, and were able to recognise them again up river. At a camp further up stream, Tendenba, we bought ‘A Photographic Field Guide to the birds of The Gambia and West Africa’, a brilliant and useful book. Martin was fantastic at photographing them, we were able to check their photos in the book to confirm what we were seeing. Up at Janjanbureh (Georgetown) we had another very good guide who, on a short walk at the crack of dawn spotted over 30 different bird species.
In the broad salty river mouth, up from Banjul we had dolphins swimming with us. They were huge ones, strange to see them swimming in the brown water of The Gambia, they must heavily rely on their sonar, because they wouldn’t see much in there!
The low saltwater mangroves line the banks of the river for many miles up stream. In the salt water, oysters attached to the mangrove roots show in a white tide line at low water. On muddy exposed banks there are little fish who have adapted to live out of the water at low tide and who hop along in a fairly proficient manner on their fins. The vegetation is much more varied up stream where there are various palms, boba trees, tall mangroves, vines, reeds and grasses etc.
At Elephant Island (100 NM up stream from Banjul) we saw our first ( and at this point only) Crocodile. A huge thing. He was sitting motionless on the muddy beach of the river with its mouth wide open. We motored closer ( of course) and after a while with a slick and effortless motion he slipped into the river and all we could see of him were two eyes and his long snout with his nostrils at the end, out of the water.
Further up river in the fresh water we saw hippopotamuses on several occasions. We know these are reputed to be the most dangerous animals in Africa so we are very respectful and wary of them on each encounter. We saw them a few times swimming, submerged with all but there eyes and nostrils out. They are pinky brownie grey, with pink on their ears and around their faces. Once we saw one half out of the water, eating. Then we could then really appreciate the immense size of these animals. In the water at this point there were two swimming and one was a baby, they are extremely protective of their young and this is when they can be most aggressive so when we saw that we quickly went on our way. Very exciting to have seen them though.
The locals are not so excited to see them. Not just because of the hippos’ aggressive dangerous nature, but also because they go into the rice fields ( the main staple food crop along with the groundnuts) and eat and destroy the rice plants. Wild bore ( which Dan says are very good curried) are also a problem for this reason, fields can be trampled and ripped up in one night. So people often leave campfires burning by their fields, or drum to deter them, which we hear sometimes from the boat.
Swimming along in the water we have also seen a small black snake, swimming in a beautiful S with its head held just out of the water, an iguana (?) and little fresh water turtles.
We have seen lots of Monkeys in the trees, different species. They are wonderful to watch climb, they are so fast. They make huge jumps through the trees, crashing into foliage and scampering on . They have very long tails which hang down when they are sitting in the branches eating. We had breakfast one morning at a camp by the riverside where cheeky monkeys came and helped them self to the ‘all you can eat buffet’ ( intended only for humans). They sat in the trees over head and delicately ate slices of watermelon, one monkey achieved an egg from the kitchen and another was fed by Dan with groundnuts (peanuts) from his pocket. The monkey took it from Dans’ hand, sniffed it inquiringly, expertly de shelled it, ate the nuts and threw the shells over his shoulder.
We were lucky to see chimps as well on Baboon island when we went with the ranger wardens there. We saw an elderly gentleman chimp, and then close by a mother and her baby sitting on a branch overhanging the water. They watched us for a while then slowly lumbered off into the trees, the baby holding on the mothers’s back. The day before we had heard them calling and shouting in the trees but didn’t see them.
We have seen lots of tiny wildlife too: there is a fantastical range of insects. We had 1000 plus earwigs in the dingy on one occasion. There are also strange little flying bugs which when squashed smell strongly of TCP. Beautiful butterflies and lots of other flying things. Luckily so far we have not had too many bad bites though. We have seen fire flies at night. I had visited the hospital in Bansang to have an insect flushed out of my ear, which had been there for 5 days. I felt it wriggle in, I was relived to see it was tiny, because scale is difficult to judge inside the ear!