Whilst it would be lovely to have a safari park in The Gambia, a great deal of thought needs to go into it before investment is made if it is not to follow the route of previous disasters such as Sindola and the recent walking with Lions type enterprise which failed at Abuko. It would be a tragic waste of investment.
The proposed area in CRR has been decimated by tree cutting and is beginning to resemble the Sahara Desert. Each year there is a greater and greater demand for land for farming as the population of The Gambia increases. It is questionable whether the benefit of the Safari Park will outweigh the needs of the local population. The Gambia is a rain-fed nation and her local people depend on farming for their survival. The Land tenure system is in such a way that land is very difficult to get as years goes by. This could be life threatening.
The site chosen is one of the areas in The Gambia that has the highest incidence of trypanosomiasis, all the species that are going to be introduced are susceptible to T. Bruceii, T. Vivax and T. Congelensi, all of which are very common in the area. Research is being conducted into the new neurological form of T. Bruceii in the area which is affecting the horses and donkeys and possibly other domestic animals and at the present time there is no treatment for this disease. Introducing animals that may not be trypono-tolerant is bound to lead to unnecessary deaths and to compromise animal welfare. The International Trypanosomiasis Centre (ITC) have herds of cattle here for years for research purposes and even with the trypano-tolerant ndama cattle, there is a high incidence of the disease.
Animals such as buffalo are hosts to a number of diseases that could adversely affect our local herds of cattle and this needs to be considered before bringing animals into the country, Tuberculosis, Foot and Mouth Disease, Corridor disease, BMCF are just some of the diseases that can be transmitted and extreme caution needs to be taken. Conversely, some of the diseases encountered in The Gambia in recent years such as CBPP could affect the buffalo.
“Livestock and wild animals are important to their owners and the country. Control measures should be followed to reduce the chances of these diseases affecting livestock, because some of them can have a negative economic impact on the country, cause serious diseases in humans and even death in animals and humans. ARC-Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute”
There are limited veterinary resources in The Gambia and as far as I know there is no one with any wildlife veterinary experience so importing vulnerable animals into a country with little or no wildlife veterinary back up would seem irresponsible.
With the decimation of the bush in this area, there will not be enough food or even water to sustain wildlife. I am told that a South African consultant has suggested that it would be possible to sustain 25 elephants on the area. An elephant drinks up to 50 gallons of water a day and requires anything from 300 lbs to possible 600lbs a food per day. This area could not sustain that without supplementary feeding and there is already a shortage of hay for domestic animals. Importing feed for them would be prohibitively expensive. If the safari park were to purchase all the hay supplies, which vary from year to year as a result of the variable rains we have had for the past few years this would in turn affect the prices and the supplies for the small ruminants and the equids.
Feeding the carnivores will be equally problematic as meat is in short supply in The Gambia and both meat and fish are prohibitively expensive. There is also the possibility of feeding bush pig but even they are becoming harder to find now and there may not be sufficient to sustain lions over a number of years. I know from personal experience that the lions at Sindola became ill and died after eating bush pig.
The park will doubtless attract tourists and this is a good thing, but I question whether there will be sufficient numbers to cover the expenses involved. Outgoings will be very high indeed if the animals are to be kept in good condition. The last few years have also taught us how fragile tourism can be, it only requires an outbreak of Ebola or a terrorist attack to cut tourist numbers dramatically. I am very concerned that history may be repeating itself and we shall end up with huge numbers of dead or starving animals again. We have seen it before in The Gambia.
The Gambia as one of the least developed nations in the world is very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and global warming. Undesirable rainfall patterns in the few past years is worrisome for the rain-fed agricultural nation. Poor vegetation, reduction in soil fertility, high temperatures, extreme weather events and food insufficiency are clearly visible. The unfavourable land tenure system makes it difficult for access to land. Therefore, using a wide space for a Safari while hunger remains in our societies might be considered a misplaced priority and a threat to the lives of our horses and donkeys. They could potentially be used to feed the carnivores in the Safari as it is done in the neighbouring Fatala, Senegal. All factors put into consideration, not even the expected revenue can help sustain such an elephant project.
There is no doubt that this area is beautiful. It could sustain with a little extra feeding, some of the antelope found in Senegal. These are spectacular to look at, may well be trypano-tolerant and would provide tourists with a good experience together with the birdlife to be found in the area with minimal disruption to Gambia’s domestic animals. They could also possibly survive without too much additional feeding should tourist numbers fall for any reason.
If this project goes ahead, there is likely to be a great deal of animal suffering and animal welfare will be compromised. This will in turn have an adverse effect on tourism and this needs to be kept in mind.
In this day and age, we should not be using animals purely to make money without thinking about their needs and welfare. This project could just give The Gambia a very bad name as it follows on from other failed projects. In this day and age of social media bad news travels fast. Every life matters and we must begin to do the right things at the right time.
Omar Sambou (Malmo)