Posted - 24 Apr 2022 : 12:26:27
Unsolicited advice on the future of Bijilo Forest (Monkey) Park
By Dr. Malanding Jaiteh
The area now called Monkey Park consists of two separate entities, Bijilo Forest Park, 40 hectares, shown here in green and 23 ha West Africa Livestock Innovative Center (WALIC) formally occupied by the International Trypanotolerance Centre (ITC). The construction of the Kairaba International Conference Center has left the Park unable to cater for it's resident monkey population. The monkeys in trying to survive had to learn to live in urban settlements. In the absence of catastrophic monkey-human conflict, we will continue to see a thriving urban monkey population for some time to come. This situation is unlikely to be reversed as the monkeys adapt to live in the suburban environs.
With the recent revelations that the Minister of Lands has applied to de-reserved what remains of the Park, and the swift reaction it generated from the environmental activist groups, it is important that all sides take to heart what’s best for country’s overall environmental situation. While de-reservation of the 40 ha coastal forest may be a sure death sentence to the wild monkey population, it is also the case that the status quo only sets them up on a slow death spiral. The size of the habitat and lack of forage will force the monkeys to further urbanize.
The US Embassy perhaps by coincidence admitting that it is looking for a New Embassy Compound, may present us some opportunity here. Let me say that I have never officially or otherwise been involved in any discussion regarding de-reservation of the Park for use by the US Embassy or any other developer. However, as I life long forester, I feel that I should add my voice to the debate for the records. The two entities, Bijilo Forest Park and WALIC combined cover a total of 60 hectares not big enough to sustain any sizeable natural population of flora or fauna.
If I have any say, I will recommend that the Park be de-reserved, and half of it for the US New Embassy Compound and the remaining 30ha be dedicated as arboretum where future generations of Gambians will learn about the original coastal vegetation and fauna of the area. Just like the old botanical garden in Bakau, the US Embassy managing one next to its compound will assure preservation of the site for generations to come.
In addition to maintaining the 30-hectare arboretum, we should ask that the US Embassy through its many sources support the rehabilitation and management of what remains of the gmelina plantations in Kombo, namely, Salaji (Kombo North), Nyambai and Kabafita (Kombo Central), Bamba (Kombo South), Furuyar and Finto Manereg (Kombo East) a total of 3,000 ha. These Parks, like the monkey population in Bijilo are threatened with further degradation and extinction and the Department of Forestry in its current state does not have the capacity or the resources to reserve the trend.
While Monkey Park is irreplaceable, I believe the sustainable management of these six parks, presents us the greatest chance of delivering greater environmental goods and services to the people of Kombo and by extension the Gambian people.
A clear conscience fears no accusation - proverb from Sierra Leone