Gambia hosts international bird festival


The maiden edition of the International Bird Festival 2016 organised by the Gambia Tourism Board (GTBoard) came to an end on Tuesday , October 25 at Tendaba Camp, an eco-tourism camp situated in the country’s prime birding locations in the Lower River Region.

The opening ceremony was witnessed by dignitaries while international birders joined the local birders to watch over 550 species of birds available in The Gambia. It also offered the international birders the opportunity to identify a branded ‘bird of the festival’ called Black Crowned Crane, known in the Gambia as ‘Kumareh’.

The opening was marked with different activities and speeches. Below are the speeches delivered by Bakary K Jammeh, Chairman of Board of Directors of GTBoard; Abdoulie Hydara, Director General of GTBoard and Ousainou Touray, a representative of the Minister of Environment.

Bakary K Jammeh, Chairman Board of Directors of GTBoard

It gives me a great pleasure to welcome you all and to be associated with this very auspicious occasion, the official launching of the maiden Gambia International Bird Festival, which has been rolled-out by the GTBoard in conjunction with the parent Ministry of Tourism and Culture, stakeholders in the birding circuit and the honorable people of Tendaba and its environs.

This international festival seeks to strengthen our profile as the number one birding destination in this part of Africa. The festival has been designed in a way to amplify our commitment to rural and community tourism development which is a key objective of the government. Furthermore, the festival shall reinforce our efforts to support birding in destination Gambia and by extension the conservation of birding destinations, which are spread across the length and breadth of the Smiling Coast particularly the highly rated Kiang West National Park.

It is equally gratifying to point out that this festival has a very strong community and responsible tourism dimension. This is more so given the fact that 50% of the proceeds realised from this worthy initiative will be allocated to support the conservation of one of the highly rated birding destinations in the Tourism Development Area, the Kotu Creek, a very popular birding site in the heart of our Tourism Development Area.

Another key objectives of this festival, which is firmly rooted in conservation and preservation of our bird stock including their habitats is the protection of the Black Crane for now and posterity. The Black Crane has been identified and branded as the ‘Bird of the Festival.’

The Gambia is certainly a paradise for many reasons, but most of all it is certainly a dreamland for birds and those who love watching them in their sanctuary. Therefore, this festival is a fitting celebration of this very important niche, which has henceforth been elevated to a major tourism product in destination Gambia – a land were beautiful and exotic birds of very different features flock together.

On this note I wish to express my sincere gratitude to His Excellency the President of The Gambia and his government for the tremendous support given to the tourism sector, and the Honorable Minister for Tourism and Culture for his leadership.

On behalf of my colleagues in the governing council, I wish to commend the Director General and his team and all the partners for conceptualising and making this festival a reality.

To the community of Tendaba, I say thank you ‘Alabaraka’ for according us this warm hospitality to be able to assemble in your community and celebrate bird watching. To our auspicious guests and distinguished participants, I welcome you wholeheartedly on behalf of the local community to the Smiling Coast of Africa and Tendaba in particular, please feel at home and enjoy the sights, sounds and the birds of the Smiling Coast of Africa.”

Abdoulie Hydara – Director General of GTBoard

This is a milestone in the annals of Gambia tourism and will henceforth take pride of place in the calendar of event of Destination Gambia.

This is occasioned by a range of factors, but foremost is the fact that this is the first time a festival of this nature is being rolled out to celebrate bird watching, and elevate this product as a major niche in our product portfolio.

Distinguished guests, dignitaries here present including our auspicious local hosts, Destination Gambia has a wide range of unique products including the rich cultural heritage, agreeable climate, gorgeous beaches as well as a very rich bird watching credentials. This festival has therefore been rolled out by the Gambia tourism Board in conjunction with the parent Ministry of Tourism and Culture as well as the various tourism stakeholders such as the Gambia Bird watching Association and various authoritative overseas partners to raise the profile of Bird watching and by extension the entire tourism industry as a sustainable, responsible and nature friendly industry.

Besides our fabulous tourism products, The Gambia is endowed with abundant peace and tranquility including a range of attractions that serve as a magnet to attract tourists and visitors to the shores of the Smiling Coast. Already the Smiling Coast is frequented by a diverse range of seasoned and discerning birders to indulge in their favorite passion such as bird watching in the various birding destinations, which are rated very highly and preserved with care by the Gambia Government.

This upward trend in niche tourism points to a certain potential, which the GTboard and by extension the Ministry of Tourism and Culture is ready to fully engage in our quest to not only diversify our product range, but increase the geographic scope of tourism in line with the tourism, culture and hospitality Vision 2020 to make tourism more people friendly, whilst increasing the impact. This diversification also entails a gradual shift in focus from the traditional package tour business and a gradual foray into niche tourism and focusing on ecology related tourism and developing niche products such as bird watching and related products. Various authoritative studies have pointed to this trend in global tourism, as tourists become more adventurous, nature oriented and concerned about environmental issues.

Having said all these, it is gratifying to point out that this festival is indeed a unique one, and for the first time all roads will lead to Tendaba – a small and typical Gambian riverine village – lying on the south bank of the majestic River Gambia, and in attendance will be high value tourists, attracted not by our sandy beaches and glorious sunshine, but our diverse stock of birds, inhabiting the myriad or protected forest reserves in our various localities such as Tendaba and its environs.

Indeed this festival could not have happened at a more opportune time. The 2016/2017 winter season is just about to blossom and all the indications are that this will be a bumper season, following a very lean two year period due to the notorious Ebola epidemic, which had ravaged other parts of our sub-region. It is therefore a very good omen for Gambia tourism that we gather here today to celebrate bird watching as a form of thanks giving to Mother Nature to continue to bless Gambia tourism.

Therefore it is gratifying to point out that this maiden international birding festival is a small step for the GTBoard, but a giant leap for Destination Gambia.

On this note I seize this opportunity to welcome all our distinguished guests to the Smiling Coast and urge them to immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of Tendaba. To the organizing committee I say bravo for a job well done. My sincere commendation goes to the Honorable Minister of Tourism and Culture who conceptualize this project at this time as a DG-GTBoard, I also wish to commend the local community and the Alkalo in particular for opening the doors of the village of Tendaba – which in Mandinka means ‘big coast’ to host this auspicious occasion. This hospitality and the desire to share with visitors by the people of the ‘Big Coast’ is the essence of the Smiling Coast and Gambia tourism in general.”

Ousainou Touray – Rep Minister of ECC&NAR

The first milestone in history of conservation in The Gambia referred to the Banjul Declaration of 1977 which established the department and paved the way for the development of the first comprehensive conservation policy and Act of 1977. Today this ceremony will be equated to a second milestone.

Wildlife resources form an important component of the country’s biotic assets from both ecological and economic view points. According to the available data, there are 117 species of mammals, 47 species of reptiles and 30 species of amphibians making a total of 194 species of wild animals in the Gambia. We are also endowed with a rich avifauna estimated at a total of over 570 species.

The Gambia situated in the Sahelian Upwelling Marine eco-region is an important area for birds, including resident and migrant species, such as the lesser Black Back Gull, Great Cormorant, Sanderlings, Small plovers (eg Kittlizts, ringed Plover, little ringed plover, Kentish plover, and white fronted sand plover), Royal tern, Caspian tern, audoin’s gull, grey headed gull, slender billed gull, kel gull, osprey, grey plover, ruddy turnstone, bar tailed godwith, black tailed godwit, bridled tern, reef heron, grey heron, great white pelican. Wintering birds migrating from Europe and Asia use the numerous wetlands in the country as roosting, nesting and feeding grounds.

The Bijilo Island, known as the lone breeding ground of terns and gulls, is a heaven for bird viewing. On this part of the world we are using birds as parameters for the monitoring of the health condition of our wetlands, the diversity and abundance of the fish stocks and more importantly they serve as bio-indicators of climate and the environment as change is occurring.

Partnering with the GTBoard and other stakeholders to organize the first Gambia International bird Festival, The DPWM has embarked on developing new products to boost tourism experience in the parks and reserves. The piloting of Eagle Height project in Abuko and other initiatives are clear indication of the new philosophy (improve revenue collection to boost management).

This benchmark coupled with other new and ongoing events will go a long way in popularizing the Gambia as a birding Eldorado in order to diversify revenue collection and job creation around birds and its habitats.

To emulate other international festival around the world, the long journey towards success has just started with the first step. We promise to relentlessly continue the good work with all our partners to postulate this annual event into higher heights.”

Daily Observer, Gambia