Sunday. Another day trip today to Makasutu, a village nearby our closest town Brikama. ‘Makasutu’ means ‘holy forest’ in Mandinka.
Many animals are being treated badly here, over the past months we have seen many injuries on animals, shocking scenes involving animals and animals in an upsettingly neglected state.
We see kids throwing stones at any type of animal, however harmless, on a daily basis and recently caught our neighbour’s kids chasing our toads with a hammer, trying to smash them, having great joy in this. Asking the older girl why they are doing this, she said animals are dangerous, tigers for example, one has to defend oneself. There are no tigers in Westafrica.
In 2002 the late Stella Marsden OBE and her sister Heather Armstrong (both British) founded The Gambia Horse and Donkey Trust (GHDT), the aim of which is to reduce rural poverty in The Gambia through improving the health, welfare and productivity of all animals, but working animals in particular. Lack of knowledge in combination with poor management, high disease risk and poverty, farmers were investing comparatively large amounts of money for a working animal only for it to die, too often within six months. Not only was this causing further hardship for the farmers, it was also creating a serious animal welfare problem and the veterinary services did not have the infrastructure or finances to be able to help the farmers.
The Gambia to date does not have facilities to hospitalise or keep animals in need, but the awareness of their welfare is rising throughout the country. The growing band of Animal Advocates are identifying animals in need of help and not all of them are horses and donkeys. GHDT is supporting people’s quest to help all animals in need and is taking these patients in. The vast majority of them are still horses and donkeys but they are treating and rehoming a growing number of cats and dogs as well.
In the GHDT’s school education programme they have also included canines in an attempt to teach children empathy and understanding dogs a little better, the children will also be able to avoid the danger of Rabies.
It’s an impressive place with a very peaceful atmosphere where animals are loved and cared for around the clock. I am deliberately only showing pictures of animals who have been here for a while, but we have seen animals with very upsetting wounds or in a very neglected state, both obviously caused by humans.
GHDT is a small charity, registered in both the UK and The Gambia, who is dependent on donations. Here is a link to their website, for those who would like to read more about it or even want to support them: http://www.gambiahorseanddonkey.org.uk
The forest reserve next to it is home to many Baboons who cause real trouble to the GHDT as they keep stealing the animals food!
Next door is the entrance to the Makasutu Culture Forest, yet another place worth visiting and writing about.
The reserve is set alongside the beautiful mangrove-lined Mandina Creek about 5km northeast of our closest town Brikama and is managed in collaboration with the surrounding communities. The reserve was established in 1993 by two well-travelled British enthusiasts, James English and Lawrence Williams, fulfilling a local legend that two white men would save the forest and make it famous (something they learned after the forest opened). ‘Makasutu’ means ‘sacred and deep forest’ in Mandinka, and the reserve extends over around 10km² of riparian forest, savannah and mangroves, and supports plenty of wildlife, with many bird species, monitor lizards, baboons, vervet and red colobus monkeys, and apparently also the occasional crocodile and even the odd mongoose, both of which we weren’t lucky enough to see. But we were greeted by hundreds of Baboons!
Makasutu Cultural Forest is an exemplary eco-tourism project and highly regarded within The Gambia. Before the pandemic hit, it provided steady employment to more than 100 local people in an area that doesn’t attract many visitors.
We went on a little boat tour along the creek and had a sneaky look to the Mandina lodges (and its half sunken boat…) from the distance. The exclusive and architecturally stunning lodges are what Makasutu is best known for and it’s probably one of the nicest places to stay in The Gambia, not only from an architectonical point of view, but also location wise as the lodges are set very remotely within the mangroves.
As soon as we were back on land, Vincent went straight into the water and we all followed him as the only way to cool down these days is in the warm, yet refreshing water.
Next to the gate of the reserve is an arts and crafts village where local artists and craftsmen sell their works, mainly wood carvings and pottery. Since the tourists stopped coming, it has been left and their beautifully works are lying left to be eaten by termites. It looks as if the Baboons have taken over the place, apparently they like to go on a rampage and show the humans who is king of the woods as soon as they turn their backs…
It has been amazing to be so close to wild Baboons!