Niokolo-Koba National Park
In southeast Senegal, this is one of West Africa’s finest for large mammals—a beautiful wilderness of Sudanese savannah, lakes, marshes, and Guinea forest, large and varied enough (3,300 square miles/8,500 km2) to support a variety of naturally sustained populations. Here are Africa’s largest lions along with elephants, hippos, buffalo, leopards, giant or Derby elands, big, handsome roan antelopes with clown masks and long tasseled ears, baboons, panthers, crocodiles, honey badgers, and a variety of antelopes, among more than 80 mammal species. Green vervet (or grivet) and red colobus monkeys scream and chatter and perform remarkable aerial feats in ancient silk cotton, mahogany, and kapok trees, with troupes of chimpanzees at the northernmost point of their range.
Over 350 bird species recorded here include majestic bateleur eagles, called the world’s most beautiful raptor with brilliant rust, white and jet-black markings; long-necked black-bellied bustards striding about grasslands with necks waving back and forth like cobras in a basket; handsome exclamatory paradise whydahs, 4.5 inches (12 cm) long, with tails more than twice that. And there’s much more—turkey-sized Abyssinian ground hornbills, violet touracos, dazzling multicolored red-throated bee-eaters, iridescent violet-backed starlings, blue-breasted kingfishers, white-faced tree ducks, Senegalese coucals, saddle-bill storks, and hammerheads, to mention just a few.
In the Gambia River and its tributaries are hippos and all three African crocodiles—the Nile, slender-snouted, and dwarf—plus a variety of water-oriented birds including lovely African pygmy geese with pale lime-green cheeks, orange flanks and black and white faces, pink-backed pelicans, white-faced tree-ducks, curious knob-billed geese with huge combs on their upper bills, great spur-winged geese with pink bills and feet, and green-glossed black wings and mantles.
Main park entrance is at Dar-Salam on the main road between Tambaçounda (park headquarters) and Kedougou (lodging is available at both), about 300 miles (483 km) southeast of Dakar, where transportation—including two weekly trains—and tours can be arranged. Inside the park at Simenti is an airstrip, visitor center, campsites, and hotel with simple accommodations where morning and evening river trips and guides of varying expertise are available (their use is obligatory, and fees help the park). Walking is allowed only with a park ranger, and vehicles should have 4WD. Many birds (Egyptian plovers, white-headed lapwings, African blue-flycatchers, and oriole warblers) and animals (hippos, elephants, kob, and oribi antelopes) are around the Simenti lodge and nearby. A path from the visitor center leads to an observation hide overlooking a water hole/grazing area—though an even wider range of species is in the eastern sector. More basic accommodations are available in a lovely setting at a bush camp on the Gambia River four miles (6 km) from Simenti, as are several campsites. Best viewing—though it’s hot—is in March–May, end of dry season.
Threats include plans for an artificial lake and dams on the Gambia, Senegal, and Niokolo-Koba rivers; mining and quarrying; and poaching which has reduced elephant and leopard populations. Contiguous BADIAR NATIONAL PARK in Guineawas established to discourage entry by poachers and grazers.
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