“We have seen hyenas! Oh, and of course kobs, the small antelopes, and warthogs and monkeys!” The Africa-experienced Austrian couple resolutly grab their “Mammals of West Africa (with 56 coloured plates),” and head for the open safari truck. Like us, they had intended to take the boat trip on the Gambia River instead, but the only guide who can steer one of the 3 pirogues has yesterday left the hotel for his scheduled 4-day holiday. That’s what the receptionist says. The manager explains that the guide’s son is hospitalised in the next town. He is going to be back any minute, the next morning, by noon, depending on whom we ask. He may just be drunk, tired, or non-existent, we conclude.
The Niokolo Koba National Park
We skip the safari truck and walk to the close-by watering hole instead. Hotel Simenti is located in the heart of Senegal’s Niokolo Koba National Park, a 9000 sq km area home to an amazing array of birds and mammals, among them reportedly lions, leopards and even elephants.
When we reach the lookout, we only just see two antelopes running for cover, chased by a crocodile that presently disappears in the reeds. Apart from that, it is mostly birds and warthog families that dare to come closer. We are not yet deep enough into the dry season for the shyer animals to depend on this pond.
Suddenly the Landcruiser comes to a halt: The savanne is burning, and large flames block the piste out of the park. But quickly the fire subsides and just continues sweltering in the bushes. It is the rangers themselves who start bushfires at this time of the year, to prevent the savanne grass from becoming so high and drythat subsequent fires could get out of control.
Birds in the Sine-Saloum Delts
While Niokolo Koba is the biggest and most famous of the nature parks in Senegal, there are a lot of smaller parks waiting to be explored. We move on to Toubacouta, a small town in the Sine-Saloum Delta near the Gambia.
Toubacouta consists of a few widely dispersed mud houses, a market open from 8 to 11 am, 3 shops open longer than that, and a number of hotels popular with bird watchers.
“That’s a pied kingfisher. And look, the Gulliver heron, how marvellous! Isn’t he beautiful?!” The Balls from the midlands have taken up their hobby recently enough to be eager to share their knowledge. The small pirogue can go deep into the bolongs, the mangrove channels, and we see numerous egrets, cormorants and pelicans. Now, at sunset, the birds fight noisily over the most comfortable branches to sleep on a small mangrove island. “Sugoi! Sugoooi!”, the Japanese girls in the next boat comment on each flock of pelicans gliding by
“Nobody knows why that particular island is so popular,” a local expat shrugs. “But even the pelicans retire there for the night once the tourists have gone.”
The Reserve de Popenguine
A few days later, at the Reserve de Popenguine, a senior official tells us that a guide is compulsory to visit the bird sanctuary. “Unfortunately right now the guide is in Dakar. But he will be back this evening.” The next morning, we are told that the guide has fallen ill. And yes, there is a second guide in the park’s services, but he is also in Dakar. Eventually we get permission to visit the area alone, with our recently acquired birding knowledge and a borrowed “Birds of West Africa (with 18 coloured plates)”. We then spent an enjoyable morning identifying spur-winged plovers and abessynian rollers.