In April 2022, nine undergraduate and postgraduate animal management and science students travelled to West Africa for two weeks of conservation work with Project Wild Gambia. They accompanied by staff member Dr Jarmila Bone.
Within a day of visiting Gambia, they viewed dozens of endangered species and learnt about the importance of eco tourism.
Student Diary: Day One in Gambia
On the first day of our Gambian adventure we stopped off at the Senegambia holiday resort which runs an eco tourism program. This gave us an idea of how eco tourism can benefit endangered species as well as the local community.
The hotel provided a safe place for critically endangered hooded vultures while educating the visitors about the importance of this species. It was such a privilege being able to get close to these incredible birds and watch them interacting with each other.
Their wingspans were huge and they frequently flew just past our heads, giving us a real sense of how big they were. The guide talked to us about threats to this species and how they can be conserved.
The hotel also attracted many other species of birds such as cattle egrets and yellow billed kites which were also stunning to see. We arrived in time for the feeding demonstration which created a real surge of energy among the birds. The kites were especially agile and dived down to catch the food thrown into the air. It was an amazing experience!
After this we went to the Kotu bird watching site where we stood on a bridge overlooking the river. We saw a large variety of bird species such as the pied kingfisher, greenshank and bulbul. The colours and features of the birds were unlike anything in the UK and it was great to watch them in their natural habitat.
As it was coming up to lunch time we headed towards the beach where we got to meet some local women who made us delicious fruit plates and we helped haul in their fishing nets. We saw the catch which consisted of a puffer fish and a crab.Unfortunately it was a very small catch for the local community efforts, but the fishermen mentioned that their catches often varied in size and sometimes they caught nothing, yet they remained thankful for what they got.
After chatting to the locals we headed to the Kachikally Crocodile Pool, home to the West African crocodile, a recently discovered separate species from the Nile crocodile. On the way in we were excited to spot some critically endangered red colobus monkeys, as well as the more common green monkey.
Kachikally is a sacred site believed to increase female fertility, if women bathe in the crocodile infested waters...
We were so lucky to get such close encounters! These crocodiles live in very close proximity to the village and are free to come and go as they please, and do so in the village drains! Thankfully, the pool guards feed the crocs regularly to keep them relaxed and prevent their need to hunt.
While we were at the croc pool we saw loads of interesting and beautiful birds including the giant kingfisher (the biggest kingfisher in the world), the blue-breasted kingfisher and some stunning village weavers.
At the end of an incredible day we headed back to the hotel and to get a taste of the local cuisine and enjoy the lively music scene!
For more information on Writtle University College's animal-related courses, visit writtle.ac.uk/animal.