Mustapha K Darboe
Gambia’s president Adama Barrow has inherited a number of things from his predecessor, an old school autocratic ruler Yahya Jammeh, among which, it appears, is his show of indifference to environmental protection, activists queried.
In 2017 the concerns of environmental activists was a Chinese company, Golden Lead, “polluting” the sea in Gunjur and now it is a decision that threatens an endangered Western Red Colobus Monkeys.
Barrow’s administration has identified the endangered monkeys’ only habitat for the construction of a hotel, shopping mall and presidential villas in preparation for the November 2019 summit of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
The relocation of the park to Pirang as planned by the Government has caused rage among environmental activists, concern citizens and even tourists.
“I am horrified they are getting rid of it (Monkey Park)… The red monkeys are an endangered species and it is illegal to destroy their habitat…,” Hilary Lawther, a frequent visitor from UK, has told Kerr Fatou.
Established in 1951, the park covered an area of 51.3 hectares comprising primarily of a closed canopy forest with a significant number of rhun palms, and with a relatively thin strip of herbaceous dune vegetation.
The rainforest is home to various invertebrates, reptiles and mammalian species. Among the primates are troops of Green Vervet Monkeys, Western Red Colobus Monkeys, Senegal Bushbabies (Gulagos), Callithrix Monkey, Campbell’s Mona Monkey and Patas.
Over 133 bird species have been recorded there with various hornbills, pheasants, cuckoos, sunbirds, starlings, weavers, waxbills, eagles and hawks.
Some of the recorded species are the Black-necked Weaver, Red-billed Hornbill, Greater Honeyguide and Green-backed Eremomela.
Tourism contribute 20% to Gambia’s GDP and the Barrow administration claimed it is going to increase that amount by targeting over 200 000 visitors yearly.
However, the country has no many tourism attractions and the few that are in existence Like the Kunta Kinteh Island and Bakau corocodile pool are threatened either by poor management or climate change.
“We do not have monkeys in Europe and Monkey Park is a very popular attraction for European visitors. Gambia’s attraction sites for tourists are very few apart from the sun,” Lawther from UK said.
Lawther is not alone. Sunday alone a number of tourists have visited the park, often expressing shock at the government’s decision.
Riley Elgar, a British tourist who is on his fourth visit to Gambia, questioned the logic for the hotel and the villas she said could be built elsewhere.
“There are more than enough hotels and if you keep building there will be no more places for tourist to visit,” she said.
“If it is just the beach, the tourists can go to anywhere in the world… They can’t demolish the park.”
But the wonders for the place are a magic to even first time visitors. Yvonne Lansink arrived at the park with Andre Lansink, both from Holland, and for them without the park, there would not be a need to visit Gambia.
“This is the only place we have seen the red monkeys in the whole Gambia… It is very nice for tourist. I can’t imagine if this place is destroyed,” Yvonne said.
“This place is very close to the hotels and we just walked here. That is good”
Tourism in Gambia employs over hundred thousand people directly and thousands more indirectly. Not only is the park a magnet for tourist, thousands of Gambians in the tourism industry directly and indirectly benefits from it.
From December to February, about 12 000 tourists have visited the park and each paid D150, an official from the forestry department who does not want to be named has confirmed to Kerr Fatou. With that number of visitors every quarter, forestry gets D7.2 million in tickets.
“These tourists are brought here by tourist drivers, tour guides and ‘bombsters’ and they buy other material and food from vendors and painters and craftsmen here,”Amadou Bayo, vendor selling drinks and water at the park has said.
Bayo has worked at the park for 7 years. He said if the authorities raze down the park, tourists will instead go to Senegal where they can visit Fatala, a similar park but which does not have a red monkey.
“Development is helping people to earn a living not taking it from them,” Kauw Jaiteh, an artist who sells different artwork to tourists at the park, has said.
The manager for the park, Sulayman Jobe, has however declined to talk to the press. Jobe said he has not heard any formal communication from the authorities that the park is going to be de-reserved.
Activists threatens action
Since the decision of the government was known, environmental activists have vowed to fight against the decisions. The park was on Sunday morning visited by a number of activists and academics including Sidi Sanneh and Dr Ismaila Ceesay.
Meanwhile, a local pro-environmental movement call Green up Gambia has started an online petition that was signed by over two thousand people including public critic of the administration, Dr Cessay.
“I cannot understand why it was so much easy for them share a letter to take over this place… We cannot allow this place to go,” said Kemo Fatty, an activist working for Green up Gambia.
“This (park) is what attract tourists to come to The Gambia. What we are coming to build, the tourists have ten times that in their country.”
The park is also home to International Trypanotolerance Centre, a research hub for animal diseases that has been built by country’s first president Dawda Jawara who was a veterinarian doctor.
Razing it down could cost the country and investment worth of $142 million dollars, Fatty has said.
Fatty and his colleagues are planning a protest on May 7 against the decision.
“This is very serious,” Dr Ars Secka, director at the ITC has told Kerr Fatou.
Gambia is significantly affected by climate change and its coastal settlements are increasing being threatened as water eats into the beaches.
Behind the park itself, the government is battling to keep the water away from the hotels. Trucks are hired to put rocks at the shores as work began to push the water which is few meters from Swiss Tavern restaurant and Kololi Beach Hotel.
“This is the only natural forest in this whole area. The coastal forests are disappearing,” Fatty said.
“It will be tragic if we have to lose this forest cover to a mall and a hotel…”
Meanwhile, the Government has not said anything on the issue. The country’s environment minister, Lamin Dibba who was away on an official visit when the decision was made, told Kerr Fatou he would need time to be able to comment on the issue.