Abuko Nature Reserve
Certainly one of the Gambia’s best bits, the celebrated Abuko Nature Reserve is less than two square kilometers in extend, but within it’s carefully protected confines it preserves one of the last surviving examples of tropical riverine forest (also known s gallery forest) in the country. Whether you’re an overlander or a Gambia holidaymaker, it’s a must and it’s easily explored on foot.
Lamin stream (the tip of Lamin bolon) and its stunning necklace of forest was noticed in 1967 by Eddie Brewer, father of The Gambia’s conservation movement, and was fenced the following year. The barrier is there to keep domestic animals, hunters and woodcutters out, rather than anything in – Abuko’s three-hundred –odd bird species and dozens of varieties of small mammals and reptiles need no encouragement to stay.
Apart from pond-dredging, path-clearing and hide-building, the reserve as you’ll visit it is more or less as it was found. While it includes small glades of savanna, the strongest impression is created by the magnificent gallery forest trees, spiraling up from the webbed fingers of their buttress roots through a canopy of interviewed trailing creepers and epiphytes to create dark cathedrals of evergreen vegetation.
The whole walk around the marked trail through the reserve takes a couple of hours, but it could easily turn into half a day depending on your interest in the various bird species (more often heard than seen) and your curiosity about more bizarre life forms on the forest floor. Early morning and late afternoon tend to yield the most wildlife sightings, as creatures take refuge from the midday heat.
You can expect to see patas, vervet and western red colobus monkeys, as well as a plenty of harmless – monitor lizards which dart across the path and claw their way through the undergrowth. Most are small, but they can grow as long as two metres. With patience, it’s normally also possible to spot crocodile at the Bamboo pool from the lookout at the Darwin Field Station. Watch for the two distinct species: the larger, pale Nile crocodile, and the small, darker dwarf crocodile, which is critically endangered. Snakes are infrequently observed: the reserve boasts green mamba, puff adder, royal and African rock python, forest and spitting cobras, among others, but you’d be lucky ( or unfortunate) to actually see one, especially a large python, and unless you start plunging through the jungle, they pose no threat.
At the top of the circuit is the unprepossessing Animal Orphanage, a rehabilitation centre set up by the department of parks and wildlife Management in 1997.
The excursions organized by tour operators, sometimes more than thirty people at a time, are to be avoided if you’re keen to get to get the most from your visit: shouting guides and chattering crowds shatter the tranquility of the place. The reserve is situated right by the main road from Serekunda to Brikama.
Abuko is also a mecca for bird watchers, for more information please take a look at our Bird Watching page.