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Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve, Gambia
     
 
INTRODUCTION:
The Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve (also spelt Baobolong) was established in 1996, it covers an area of about 220 square kilometres (84.94 sq. miles), and is located on the North Bank Region of the River Gambia. It is100km east of the capital Banjul, and the estuary, encompassing parts of Upper and Central Baddibu districts. Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve (BBWR) is the largest protected reserve in The Gambia; so ecologically significant is the area that it has been designated a site of international importance by Ramsar International Wetlands Convention, the government having signed it in 1996.

ECOSYSTEMS:
Bao Bolong's 3 distinct ecosystems of mangrove swamp, closed-canopy savanna woodland, and saltmarsh, are all within close proximity of each other, and abundant in vegetation, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates.

WATER LEVELS & SALINITY:
For about half the year, water in the nature reserve remains brackish. However, during the rainy season, which runs from about July to October, rain water is retained by dikes for rice irrigation. This situation continues until December when the water level starts to drop again, turning brackish once more.

BACKGROUND HISTORY:
On the 1st January, 1993, an area of 13.514 sq. miles (35 km²) was initially declared as Bao Bolong National Reserve. On the 16th September, 1996, the protected area was expanded to 220 km², and became the first and largest wetland reserve in The Gambia worthy of protection, as noted in the Ramsar Convention, and was re-named the Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve (Ramsar site no. 860). Note: some sources say the preserve is 200 sq. km. in area.

GEOGRAPHY:
The vast 22,000 hectares of the reserve is located opposite the Kiang West National Park, on the south bank of the river, and lies to the east of Salikene village and south of the villages of Mandory, Marong Kunda, N'jaba Kunda, Minteh, Brang ya, No Kunda and Konteh Kunda Niji. The terrain is generally flat, with the highest elevation being 11.6 metres above mean sea level.

The nature park is named after the Bao Bolon, a tributary of the River Gambia, which courses south from northern Senegal to join the river in a wide low valley on the north bank, facing Tendaba. The valley enters Senegalese territory at Kayemore, Ndiao, Marlene,   and passes through the south-east of Niorro and crosses into Gambian territory through Illiassa. Between the villages of Katchang and Salikene there are a further 5 tributaries that supply water to the wetlands. The effect of this is a pristine riverine area that's a network of brackish creeks fringed by tall stands of mangrove forest. A little further north of the mangroves and aquatic weeds the terrain is elevated, rising into a laterite escarpment. Beyond this are mudflats and lightly wooded areas.

AVIFAUNA:
The wetland complex has been deemed an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Birdlife International, and increasingly attracts birdwatching eco-tourists. Among the 268 bird species from 62 families recorded here are  resident and migratory avians including waterfowl such as herons, ducks, egrets, pelicans, Palearctic waders, as well as raptors and parrots. The preserve is thought to hold over 20,000 waterbirds regularly between August and December. It is thought to be an important passage site for migrating Common Greenshanks (Tringa nebularia), Common Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula), Black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) and Black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus).

Among the bird species recorded at Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve are  African Fish Eagles, African Darters, Pygmy Goose, Blue-breasted Kingfishers, Brown-necked Parrots, Fairy Warblers, Finfoots,  Garganey Ducks, Giant Kingfishers, Knob-billed Ducks, Little Stints, Malachite Kingfishers, Mouse-brown Sunbirds, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Pel's Fishing Owls, Pied Kingfishers, Red-necked Buzzards, Senegal Thick-knees, Spur-winged Geese, Spur-winged Lapwings, Striated Herons, Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, White-backed Night Herons, Woodland Kingfishers, and White-faced Whistling Ducks.



Among the riverine waders feeding along the riverside and creeks are Goliath Herons, Grey Herons, Woolly-necked storks, Cattle egrets, Hamerkop, Little Bitterns, Western Reef Herons, Sacred Ibis, Marabou storks, and Squacco Herons.



FAUNA:
• Mammals
Among the 32 mammal species recorded at Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve are antelopes such as Sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekii), bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus) and duiker. There are also African / Cape clawless otters (Aonyx capensis), warthogs, spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), hippopotamus, leopards, primates (Red Colobus, Guinea Baboon, Patas, the nocturnal Senegal Bushbaby, Green Vervet monkeys),  as well as the rare and  endangered West African Manatee (Trichechus senegalensis).



• Fish
Due to the extensive network of waterways and mangroves the area is an important breeding ground for fish fry and juveniles, with 6 families of fish having been recorded here. Among the various fish species found within the mangrove creeks, tributaries, and the riverside are Barracuda (Sphyraena sp.), Bobo Croaker (Fonticulus elongatus), Mullets (Mugilidae, Tilapia,  Bonga Shad (Ethmalosa fimbriata), Giant African Threadfin (Polydactylus quadrifilis), Catfish (Arius sp.), Pseudotolithus bracygnathus, Pomadasys peroteti (Cuvier, 1830). There are also molluscs such as Mangrove Oysters (Crassostrea gasar), and crustaceans such as Blue Crabs (Callinectes sp.).

• Reptiles
Among the various types of reptiles are West African crocodiles (Crocodylus suchus), Dwarf crocodiles (Osteolaemus tetraspis), Nile Monitor Lizards (Varanus niloticus), Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), and various snakes such as  the burrowing Sand Boa.

FLORA:
The Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve has a rich patchwork of habitat types which broadly follow a gradient starting with the high mangroves of the River Gambia, through permanent salt marsh, bare tannes and seasonal freshwater marshes, grading finally into wooded grassland.

• Savanna Woodland
Riparian and fringing savanna woodland and woodland species include the African locust bean tree (Parkia biglobosa), West African copal tree (Daniella Oliveri), Muninga 'kino' (Pterocarpus erinaceus), Terminalia albida Scott-Elliot, and Red-Flowered Silk Cotton Tree (Bombax costatum). The principal species of grasses in the grass savanna with intermittent flooding are Echinochloa pyramidalis, Phragmites karka, and Cyperus papyrus.

Shrubs and small trees include the Camel's Foot Tree (Piliostigma thonningii), Woani (Anthostema Senegalensis), Fig trees (Ficus spp), Terminalia avicennioides,  Pin Cushion or Peach Tree (Nauclea latifolia), and grass species include Horse Grass (Andropogon tectorum), Gamba Grass (A. gayanus), Beckeropsis uniseta and Pennisetum subangustum.

• Salt-Marsh
This ecosystem supports vegetation such as Shoreline Purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum), Brown Beetle Grass (Diplachne fusca), Salt Grass (Sporobolus spicatus) and Seashore Paspalum or Biscuit Grass (Paspalum vaginatum).

• Mangroves
The inter-tidal mangrove forests, which grow as high as 20 metres, are characterised by stands of Red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle, Rhizophora racemosa), and Black mangroves (Avicennia africana).

NATURE TRAIL & EXCURSIONS:
The Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve is attracting an increasing number of eco-tourists to The Gambia, especially bird watchers. The simplest way to visit is to go on an African pirogue river excursion run by the Tendaba Camp. Departing from the camp you would first cross to the opposite side of the River Gambia, then on to the creeks called the Tunku and Kisi bolongs, where you can spot various bird species nearby. If you are really patient you might also see West African crocodiles or Nile monitor lizards.

The other alternative excursion route is via the north of the park using a 4 wheel drive car. From the village of No Kunda you can take a dirt track from the North Bank Road, and head south for a few kilometres to the headquarters of the reserve, at a place called Dai Mandinka. The staff there can assist you on guided tours or find a fisherman willing to take you on a dugout canoe trip along some of the bolongs.

It is perhaps best that you make prior arrangements to go and visit the complex with the Department of Parks & Wildlife Management (DPWM) at Abuko.

RESIDENT HUMAN COMMUNITIES:
The reserve's resources are used by people from the internal and peripheral villages, and the rural Senegalese settlements to the north. Rice farming is widespread. Cattle graze throughout the open areas during the rains and early dry season. Later in the dry season swathes of tall swamp vegetation are cut for fencing and roofing. The felling of mangroves for wood has been discouraged with the help of staff from Kiang West National Park. The conservation area is susceptible to deterioration through the expansion of grazing, hunting and agriculture.

ACCOMMODATION:
There are no lodgings inside the reserve itself. The nearest rooms can be found at either Farafenni or south across the river at Tendaba. In Farafenni there is the Ballanghar Motel with 11 basic rooms with fans around a yard (tel: 7735431). According to the Rough Guide the best-known place to stay is Eddy's Hotel, Bar & Restaurant. The rooms here have ensuite showers, WC with optional fan or AC (tel: 7735611 / 7735225 / 5735225). There are a few small local restaurants such as Assane's and Sunnu Yai which cooks good quality chicken, steak and chips along with cold soft drinks and beer.

Perhaps the most pleasant place to stay in the area is the upriver resort called Tendaba Camp. It is located in Kwinella, on the other side of the reserve, along the southern bank of the river. They have their own boats so getting to the preserve is fairly easy. They have 160 beds in two types: basic rooms, and riverside ensuite deluxe rooms. These last set of rooms each has a private shower, toilet and sink as well as air-conditioning.

TRAVEL INFORMATION & HOW TO GET THERE:
To get to Bao Bolong by road you go the the Gambia's capital of Banjul, then board the ferry to Barra in the NBR. From the town you make your way east along the North Bank Road, past Kerewan and onto No Kunda. From here you take the southbound access route.

See also safety.

CONTACT ADDRESS DETAILS:
Department of Parks & Wildlife Management
Abuko Nature Reserve, HQ
C/o Ministry of Forestry & the Environment
GIPFZA House, Kairaba Avenue
The Gambia, West Africa
Tel no: +220 4376973
                     9817559
                     3917559

Email: info@mofen.gov.gm


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[Geographical coordinates 13.5167° N, 15.8667° W  / Upper & Central Baddibu, North Bank Region]




















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