West Africa: Wildlife Destinations
Wildlife Highlights of West Africa
1. A coastal oasis teeming with wildlife on the fringes of the Sahara, Mauritania’s Banc D’Arguin is one of the world’s most important destinations for wintering shorebirds.
2. Renowned for its birdwatching, Gambia’s wildlife hotspots include the Abuko Nature Reserve (a pocket of riverine forest near the coast), the Bao Bolon Wetland Reserve (floodplains and mangroves) and the River Gambia National Park – dense riverside forest and islands colonised by chimpanzees released by the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project.
3. In Senegal, Langue de Barbarie promises excellent birding along the coast, while the World Heritage Site of Niokolo-Koba National Park protects gallery forest and savannah next to the River Gambia. Wildlife here includes chimpanzee, lion, leopard, eland, a large population of elephants and baboons and over 350 species of birds.
4. A boat trip from Timbuktu along the River Niger not only provides a fascinating insight into the rural culture of Mali, but is also a good opportunity for spotting birds such as Egyptian plover, red-billed quelea and African fish eagle.
5. Ghana’s flagship reserve, Mole National Park is a good spot for walking and canoeing safaris where you will see abundant birdlife, a variety of antelope and perhaps buffalo and elephant. Lion are present, but rarely seen.
6. Over 10% of Gabon was turned into national parks by the late President Bongo in 2002 – among them, the extraordinary Loango National Park with its mosaic of forests, savannahs, lagoons and sandy beaches.
7. Lopé National Park is Gabon’s oldest protected area and has a mixture of dense rainforest and savannah. Huge troops of mandrill, containing over 1,000 individuals, have been recorded here. You can reach the park on the trans-Gabon railway from Libreville.
Band D'Arguin National Park, Mauritania
Banc D'Arguin's star species: Shorebirds • Orca • Dolphins • Monk seal • Turtles • Fennec fox
A mishmash of mudflats, mangroves, sand dunes and offshore islands, Banc D’Arguin hosts a staggering three million wintering shorebirds – a third of the entire population migrating back and forth along the Atlantic flyway. Over 100 species have been recorded, including vast numbers of bar-tailed godwit, black tern, broad-billed sandpiper, flamingo, knot, ringed and grey plover, redshank and spoonbill. Among the area’s breeding birds are white pelican and several species of tern. Marine life is also abundant. Four species of turtle – green, hawksbill, leatherback and loggerhead – are found in the reserve’s shallow seas, along with six species of dolphin (including orca, Atlantic humpbacked and Risso’s) and a colony of around 150 endangered monk seals. Roaming the desert coast, meanwhile, are Dorcas gazelle, fennec fox, jackal and striped hyena.
Getting there Take the coast highway 250km north from Nouakchott.
Getting around Arrange permits from the national park service in Nouakchott, hire a 4WD vehicle with a guide, or join an organised expedition with Mauritanie Aventure.
When to go Winter (November to February) for migrant shorebirds.
Things to do Birdwatching, desert safaris, swimming, dune walking, visits to the fishing villages of the local Imraguen people.
Places to stay Community tented camps.
Loango National Park, Gabon
Danube Delta's' star species: Western lowland gorilla • Chimpanzee • Leatherback turtle • Humpback whale
Surfing hippos, elephants strolling through the dunes, nesting sea turtles, humpback whales breaching offshore... Loango has become famous for its beach life, but the heart and soul of this stunning reserve lies in its virgin jungle, savannahs and swamps. Home to thriving populations of western lowland gorilla, forest elephant, nearly 200 other mammal species and 600 varieties of birds, Loango was described by American biologist Michael Fay as ‘Africa’s last Eden’.
Getting there Operated by Africa’s Eden, Loango Lodge can only be reached by light aircraft, but it was closed in September 2010 following a dispute with the national aviation authority. Check the website for latest information on reopening.
When to go Leatherback turtles nest November to April, humpback whales migrate along the coast June to September, gorilla sightings at their best from April to July.
Things to do The lodge arranges boat tours, savannah safaris, forest and beach walks.
Places to stay Loango Lodge (see above) and satellite camps.
Gambia’s bird checklist stands at around 570 species. For European travellers, the country offers an easily accessible introduction to the diverse and colourful birdlife of Africa, with short flights, little time difference, perfect climate and good value for money. Specialist operators like The Gambia Experience offer dedicated birdwatching tours visiting key areas like Abuko Nature Reserve, Tanji Bird Reserve, Brufut woods and the Makasutu river.