The Gambia is a fabulous location for wildlife watching. Bottle nose dolphins can be seen in the estuary of The River Gambia. Hippos live in the protected area of the River Gambia National Park, as do chimpanzees.
Closer to the coastal tourists resorts, monkeys and crocodiles are common sights as are hundreds of species of birds. What’s more, the baboons, which at one point could only be found upcountry, have returned thanks to the reforestation of Maksutu Forest.
Here’s my guide on where to see some of the most common animals in The Gambia.
Disclaimer: I have visited The Gambia many times over the last 18 years for work, volunteering and on holiday while working for The Gambia Experience. I now work freelance but was delighted to be invited to return in December 2022 on a bloggers’ press trip funded by The Gambia Experience.
Gambia wildlife | What animals can you see in The Gambia?
Over 540 species of birds
The Gambia is most well-known for its amazing bird life and with over 540 species of birds found in a variety of habitats including mangrove swamps, open grasslands and forests, it’s no wonder that BBC’s Springwatch presenter Chris Packham quotes The Gambia as one of the best birding destinations in the world and he’s lost count of the number of times he’s been here.
Tours are available with Chris’ favourite local guide Malik Suso who I was lucky enough to meet earlier in the year for an introduction to the bird life of The Gambia. With over 20 years of experience, he can lead you to the rarest and most beautiful species.
Above: Pied Kingfisher, The Gambia
If you don’t want to go on an organised tour many of the hotels in the tourist area of The Gambia have extensive grounds where numerous species can be spotted. At the Senegambia Hotel there are daily feedings of hooded vultures. Peacocks, cattle egrets and vervet monkeys are also regular visitors to the hotel gardens. However, one of the best hotels from where to bird-watch is the more modest hotel, Bakotu with its tropical garden and nature walk beside the Kotu stream.
Better still hire your own guide and visit one of the many areas within easy reach of the tourist area that is perfect for bird-watching. If you are staying in a hotel they will be able to recommend a good guide. Read more about Birdwatching in The Gambia.
Primates in The Gambia
There are six primate species found in The Gambia – the vervet monkeys, red colobus monkeys, red patas, bush babies, baboons and chimpanzees. Bijilo Monkey Park is a good place to start to look for these, especially if you are staying in the Kololi area, but to do some more serious wildlife spotting spend some time at Abuko Nature Reserve.
Alternatively head to Makasutu Forest to visit the large troop of baboons there. While there is no guarantee, the local guides will likely soon track them down for you.
Above: Green Vervet Monkeys, playing in the grounds of the Senegambia Hotel
For a real treat venture away from the main tourist area, which only occupies a small region hugging the coastline, and journey up-country where you can spend a few nights under canvas at an eco-friendly camp at the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project. As well as the chimps you’ll have the chance to see hippos, crocodiles, baboons, bush babies and a great variety of birds in an unspoilt jungle setting on the banks of the River Gambia.
This is the only place in The Gambia where you can find chimpanzees. You can stay here for 2 or 3 nights but no longer as it is closed to visitors for a few days each and every week so that the staff can concentrate on looking after the chimps.
Other wildlife that is easy to find include crocodiles which you can visit at the Katchikally crocodile pond, near Cape Point, which is rich in tradition and it is said that your wishes will be granted here. There’s also a nice little museum. Be warned though this is a serious tourist trap and the crocodiles are hardly what you could call ‘wild’.
In fact, they are so tame people touch them. I, of course, had absolutely no intention of touching one of them when I went but somehow these things just seem to happen and before I knew it I was smiling for the camera while stroking a croc!
For really lazy wildlife spotters you could do worse than spend a few hours relaxing at the Calypso Beach Bar on Cape Point where you can spot crocodiles and many bird species from the comfort of your chair with a cool beer in hand!
Update 2015: I have recently heard that the crocodiles at Katchikally are drugged but whether or not this is true I couldn’t say. Either way, I now prefer to see my animals in the wild. For a natural and more responsible crocodile experience, I urge you visit the creek by Calypso Beach Bar instead. Of course, there is no guarantee that the crocs will show but that is the nature of responsible wildlife watching.
As you can see, The Gambia has something for everyone interested in wildlife, from the mildly curious to the most dedicated enthusiast!
Please note, however, I do in no way encourage you to touch any animal in The Gambia (not even the hotel cats!)
View Wildlife in The Gambia in a larger map
Gambia Wildlife | Where are the best places for wildlife watching in The Gambia?
Abuko Nature Reserve
Abuko Nature Reserve is easy to visit independently but I would suggest you take a good guide with you to get the most out of it. Early morning or late afternoon is the best time to visit. As well as monkeys, other animals you can find here include antelopes, monitor lizards, three types of crocodiles, cobras, pythons and, if you are lucky, the green mamba!
If you are staying in Kotu, I’d recommend hiring a bird guide and taking a stroll along the creek here. This makes a fabulous introduction to the birdlife in The Gambia.
For a fabulous wildlife holiday in The Gambia, stay at Mandia Lodges in Makasutu Forest. As well as a wonderful array of birdlife, look out for the 200-plus troupe of baboons that can regularly be seen in the forest here. Read about my first experience staying here, A night on the river in Makasutu Forest.
River Gambia National Park
While this is not within easy reach for a day trip from the coastal resorts where the vast majority of visitors to The Gambia stay, if you can do arrange a night or two up-country to visit the River Gambia National Park. At Its heart, you’ll find the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project, one of the most important wildlife sites in The Gambia. Hippos can also be seen in the river near here, as well as manatees, crocodiles and other primates, such as red colobus monkeys, green vervet monkeys and baboons. Plus of course, there’s a wonderful array of birdlife.
Your hotel garden
Many of the hotels in The Gambia have wonderful gardens where it’s possible to spot many birds, butterflies and sometimes monkeys, bats and more. Senegambia Hotel is one of the best known for this and each morning at 11.30 am there is an organised vulture feeding display which is a spectacular site. Normally, I’m not a supporter of feeding wildlife like this for many reasons not least that it encourages the animals to see humans as a source of food, however, this is one exception I’d like to make. Despite being common in The Gambia, Hooded vultures are a critically endangered species globally.
Extinct and endangered species in The Gambia
Once the mighty elephant was the national emblem of The Gambia and you could still see it on Gambian stamps well into the 50s. Sadly, however, the elephant was hunted to extinction over a century ago with the last recorded sighting being in 1913. The Gambia was a British colony and with relatively easy access from Europe, it was a popular location for big game hunters. The last giraffe was shot dead in 1899.
Once lions roamed the savannahs. Families of ed river hogs and herds of antelopes ran free. But no more. As well as hunting a long draught saw off the last of many species.
Today, the West African Manatee and the Western Red Colobus Monkey are in danger of extinction, which can still be seen in Bijilio and Abiko Nature Reserves, and many other animals including species of fish, reptiles, mammals and birds including the Hooded Vulture, are considered at risk. This vulture is a common site throughout the country so much so that you’d never guess that on a worldwide basis it is critically endangered.
To find out more about holidays in The Gambia and neighbouring Senegal, visit The Gambia Experience.
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