Preserving The Gambia’s Cultural Heritage

Over Christmas I was very lucky to be able to visit the small country of The Gambia situated in West Africa south of the Sahara Desert. This trip was primarily for birding and looking for other wildlife and we had the help of our excellent guide, Lamin Bojang.

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Lamin is incredibly knowledgeable, being able to identify everything from flyover sunbirds to calling babblers. He is superb at replicating bird calls and often he will receive a response. His knowledge certainly paid off and we were able to find a number of my ‘must-see’ birds including Bearded Barbet; Senegal Batis and Swallow-tailed Bee-eater.

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A shy Senegal Batis

However, it is not only his bird knowledge he is keen to pass on. Lamin has been working on an excellent project that aims to protect Gambian history for future generations. This project is in the form of the museum for ‘cultural heritage and environmental preservation’, which will be the first one in the community and in fact The Gambia as a whole. He and his team have recently finished constructing the museum building itself and they are now beginning to manufacture strong glass cases to protect the artefacts.

As well as the galleries containing artefacts, Lamin has also constructed a coffee bar at the entrance as well as a bird hide overlooking a small waterhole which secretive and hard-to-see species such as Western Bluebill, Violet Turaco and Green Turaco are known to frequent.

I believe that this museum has incredible potential for teaching both locals and tourists about the culture of The Gambia as well as helping researchers and preserving the heritage for future generations. The bird hide should help to teach the locals what amazing bird life resides in the village or area they inhabit and with the scarcities the waterhole attracts the museum will also be a destination for ecotourists. I look forward to seeing how this ambitious and rewarding project develops.

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Lamin in the future coffee bar

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The bird hide still in construction. Hanging pieces of cloth will be put over the gaps which the viewers can lift to see the birds.

Here are some of the cultural artefacts that will be displayed in the museum galleries:

What my grandkids might not be able to see – Foxes

Some people might think that the Fox is an unusual choice as something my grandchildren might not be able to see. They are so common they can even be found in cities, right? But they’re wrong. Foxes can be found in today’s cities, but what about the cities in half a century? The only reason Foxes hang on in cities is because there are spaces  for them to shelter and there is lots of food to be found on the street. But cities will develop – that’s inevitable. Cities will become neater, leaving no shelter. Cities will become cleaner, leaving no food. That’s another habitat lost.

I am incredibly lucky to have foxes breeding in my quiet village. This year for the first time I have seen cubs, three of them, run past my living room window while I’m watching Countryfile, so young and full of life. But as all cubs do, they’ll grow older and have to fend for themselves away from their parents’ territory. But dispersing is like an assault course – they have to cross road after road before they reach unoccupied suitable habitat.

Even though there will be much less suitable habitat in the future and fewer Foxes will survive to adulthood, there is still some hope left. Our Fox family has chosen an excellent place to live as there’s lots of food on offer. A house down the road feeds them chicken and we often see a Fox trot past the window, looking content and with a huge chicken breast in its mouth. However, I wouldn’t advise feeding Foxes, especially if you have limited time. If you start feeding them they will come to depend on you, but sooner or later you’ll be absent for a long period of time or even move house, leaving no food for the Foxes. A way you can help though, is by being careful when driving in the evening. Our Foxes come out at anytime after 8pm, sometimes earlier. Drive slower, always watch the road and if it is dark then put your headlights on as soon as the sun sets.