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Wonderful wildlife in Gambia

Aside from the golden beaches, endless sunshine and welcoming locals, Gambia serves up some of the most diverse and fascinating wildlife on the continent.

You won't find the big five in this small West African country, but you will find a plethora of bird species, primates and mammals across its easily accessed national parks and reserves.

Although a small population of leopards remains, these rare cats are both nocturnal and rarely seen but you'll certainly have more luck spotting a hippo in The River Gambia National Park.

Monkey business

Six primate species can be found in Gambia, with the most commonly spotted being confident vervet monkeys and guinea baboons that live mainly on the ground.

Bijilo Forest Park on the north coast of the country is a good place to start your search and you'll also find troops of red colobus monkeys, bush babies and red patas swinging from the treetops here.

Abuko Nature Reserve is another easily accessed park full of primates, crocodiles and other reptiles. Despite locals trying to sell monkey feed outside the parks and nature reserves, visitors are requested not to feed the animals.

Chimpanzees have been extinct in Gambia since the early 1900s but visitors can explore the unique island refuge in The Gambia National Park where the orphaned and rescued primates happily reside.

Visitors are invited to spend two or three nights in safari style accommodation or take a boat trip around the islands to observe the chimps in their natural habitat.

Birder's paradise

According to Chris Packham of BBC's Springwatch, Gambia is one of the best bird-watching destinations in the world, with over 560 species of birds gracing the West African Country.

This small country, with its fantastic tourist infrastructure and easily accessible sites, is a great introduction to African birding and you can start almost anywhere.

With the rainforest to the south and the desert to the north, the diversity of species is immense. From migrating European ospreys to native Egyptian Plove, you'll also spot hooded vultures, bee-eaters, kingfishers and flycatchers to name but a few.

The list of coastal hides could keep you busy for the duration of your holiday but to see the big raptors it's best to join a tour or hire a guide and travel inland to one of the nature reserves. Plus, numerous species can be spotted without even leaving the grounds of your hotel.

The Bakotu Hotel in Kotu Beach is one of the best hotels to birdwatch from with its tropical gardens and nature walk beside the Kotu stream full of vervet monkeys, monitor lizards and more than 50 species of birds.

Helpful crocodiles

Nile crocodiles are fairly widespread in Gambia and are one of the largest species that prefer freshwater to salt.

Adult males range between three and a half to five metres long and weigh on average about 800kgs, living up to 100 years. These aquatic predators are a regular feature in Gambia folk tales and appear on coins, banknotes and in everyday life.

Traditionally they are viewed as having supernatural powers and are associated with fertility. In the small tourist town of Bakau, the Kachikally Crocodile Pool, home to more than 100 crocodiles has become a major tourist attraction as well as a sacred site to the locals.

Surrounded by tropical flowers and trees, the pool is believed to have supernatural healing powers for women who are having difficulties conceiving a child.

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