APP: When and how did you learn to differentiate the birds? How did your passion with birding start? And what has kept you interested?
Lamin: I started to have love for nature since my childhood, when I was going to Secondary School I always took first on our biology examination because of the enthusiasm and passion I have for biology and ecology. After finishing my secondary school examinations, I was unable to proceed to high school to continue my education on biology and ecology due to financial constraints given our poor familly background. I applied for a job at an insurance company Gamstar Insurance Co. at the capital city Banjul, where I worked as a messenger for ten years. While I was working at the Insurance Co., I was working with my colleagues simultaneously at the community level to organize what we later established as an NGO called Gunjur Environmental Protection and Development group (GEPADG). Being one of the five founding fathers, I worked for the development of this organization on a voluntary basis for ten years, before we received funding from the Global Environment Fund (GEF) through The World Bank as implementing agency for their fund on a project called Integrated Costal and Marine Biodiversity Management (ICAM). At the national level, the implementing agency was the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management (DPWM), and at the community level – GEPADG.
Because of the love and passion I have for nature, after we received donor support from GEF through World Bank I quiet the insurance job to join our organization GEPADG at the community level to start the implementation of the project activities. On this project I worked as a senior community park warden, responsible for the rangers patrol, monitoring, evaluating, collecting data, writing reports, handling information, managing protected areas, and monitoring various species such as the marine turtle and birds at our community protected area – Bolong Fenyo community wild life reserve, a [lagoon]. It was the place, where I learnt to differentiate species of birds, dolphins, butterflies, trees and their traditional and medicinal values, reptiles, mammals and others. Every day I see and realise my special interest in animals, especially birds, which are very enjoyable and entertaining. This is what keeps me interested in birds.
After we realized that we would be unable to sustain the project activity at the community level due to poor leadership, I decided to leave the organization to stand by myself: to start business for the love I have for nature, because I cannot compromise that for anything. I contacted Footstep Eco lodge The Gambia where I am now working as a bird and nature guide and where I am establishing my own natural and cultural history museum, which I started in 2008 hoping to be open on the 29th October 2016.
APP: What is the innate appeal of the birds? Do you think the birding is just a pastime, entertainment, or there is something special about birding?
Lamin: Birding is not just about going in to the wild looking for birds. Some of the local people in the community also ask: “Lamin, why do you go with the tourists in the nature looking for birds?” and I explain to them the reason why I do it. Birding is about enjoyment, entertainment, learning, experience and fascinating spirit that you cannot find in anything except birding. If you hear the different calls of the hornbills, mating display of red bishops, the Juawating songs of the thrust responding to one another, or if you see the courtship dance of the cranes and partridges you think that you are in an entertainment hall. Talking about the different plumages of birds, they look so colourful in the sun. It is amazing to see how they make up their feathers during prining time, how they call one another when danger comes, how they love and care for one another, how they travel from continent to continent without a map, how they make their nest, how the weavers weave their nest and so on. You can’t believe how these creatures do what they do. Owls fly in the night seeing and hearing their preys , bats fly in the night using eco location. It is incredible what these animals can do. They do things that are quit beyond what men can do. They do things which are beyond human inelegancy because they have special instinct them that we don’t have. There are lots of interesting things that one can discuss about birds that I cannot possibly discuss in detail here: for example, breeding system from egg to juvenile and adult; or how kuckoo lay their eggs to other birds’ nest as a parasite bird. You can learn many interesting things about birds, the anatomy of birds: how they are build with hollow born with different feather formation and bill formation for the right job and talons with different flying portent of different species
APP: What is more enjoyable for you – birding by ear or birding by sight?
Lamin: I enjoy birding by sighting and by melody, because I can recognise birds by hearing and by sighting as a professional. I love bird songs a lot and I always love to see them with my eye.
APP: Do you have a special interest in particular species, or you are more interested in the whole system? What is your favourite bird, and why?
Lamin: I love all the birds, but my special bird is little Grebe. What make it so special to me is its behaviour of diving in and out of water and how it’s built. I can spend the whole day at a wetland admiring the bird’s activity, it is a lovely bird.
APP: What is your most memorable birdwatching experience?
Lamin: My most memorable birding experience was the first day when I guided tourists from Footstep Eco lodge to Bejoil island at Tanji bird reserve, a governmental bird reserve in the sea. This is a fantastic island and a bird watching heaven in the sea, which attracts many waders such as gulls, garnets and relatives, terns, oystercatchers, plovers, pelicans, dunlins, turnstones, cormorants, shearwaters and many more birds flying over your head and pretending to bite, they make different melodies. The boat trip to the island provided by the government was lovely and enjoyable I will never forget about that day.
APP: What was your impetus in developing bird-watching tourism in the Gambia?
Lamin: I try to promote birding in The Gambia through my Facebook page sharing the posts of The Gambia Government Tourism Board. Also I set up my natural history museum, a bird hide for the tourists and also I train youths from our community on birding. My job also includes being a bird guide.
APP: Could you please tell us about The Gambia’s birds? Why is The Gambia such a special spot for bird-watchers?
Lamin: Birding in The Gambia is unique. The birds in The Gambia are not shy, because we do not eat birds’ meat; therefore birds are not scared of people like birds in other countries in Africa. You can be very close to them and see clearly with your own eyes, the photographer can be also close to them to take amazing photos. There are a lot of fantastic places in the country with eco camps, river camps and Eco lodges nearby where you can have very delicious indigenous Gambia food like domoda, chicken yasa which is nicer than English Nandos and KFC, fish yasa, bena kins which look like Chinese fried rice, which can be provided for the birders. You can visit wetlands, dry lands, lagoons, rivers, islands, coast line, wood lands, and sea.
Gambia is a very peaceful country with friendly people, if you go to any parts of The Gambia, elders say “hi” to you and children holding your hands like their own relatives. You feel very comfortable and relax with peace of mind. That is why we call it “the smiling coast” of The Gambia in West Africa.
APP: What is the best time to come to the Gambia for the memorable bird-watching experience?
Lamin: The best time for birding in The Gambia is from the end of October, which is the beginning of winter when it is cool in Africa, and when waders start coming and all the waters in the streets dry up and there are no mosquitoes with nice climate up to April when the raining season is fast approaching. Birding is always good in The Gambia but in summer time it is hot and some birds migrate but still you may come.
APP: What is the first advice you give to the new bird-watchers?
Lamin: They should have to go with a guide and be prepared for birding, because birding requires walking or long distances, which is good for our health. They should have to come with strong shoes, mosquito repellent, binocular, telescope if they have any and a bird book, though this one is optional, because I have my own bird book, and most of the birders in The Gambia have their own book and binocular.
APP: Where do the tourists stay? Tell please about the facilities you can offer. Do you offer the equipment?
Lamin: The tourists stay at hotels, motels, Lodges and guest houses, which provide all needed facilities for them and mobility is provided by the guide
APP: Tell us please about the projects you are working now.
Lamin: Currently, I am building a natural and cultural history museum in our community called Gunjur Village Museum to preserve The Gambia’s natural and cultural history especially that of Gunjur village for the benefits of the younger generations. We hope to attract national and international students, tourists, the communities and researchers.
I sponsor these project activities through the money generated from my bird watching activities and the support I get from the guests from Footstep Eco lodge The Gambia and guests brought by Ethical Travel Portal of Norway through Footstep Eco lodge and JIKI Foundation of Holland. However, I still need $450 for the mountings for my artefacts in the museum to enable me to open it to the general public on the 29th October 2016. Therefore I am looking for the support from around the world to aid me with this amount. For more information please go to http://gunjurmuseum.com/ which will link you to our Facebook and Twitter.
APP: Do you think the world’s consciousness is changing about nature preservation and species preservation?
Lamin: Conservationists are trying very hard for the preservation and conservation of our world remaining species, for example, WWF, PRCM, World Bank, GEF and other international environmental agencies. But still more sensitization need to be done, especially in the developing world. Our people lack the understanding of importance of nature preservation, therefore cutting down the critical habitats of the animals for economic gains cause the disappearance of some of our species. In our community we lost one of our monkey species called red calbous monkey from a badious family due to the cutting down of there habitat because they are arboreal monkeys. More needs to be done to change the minds of the people: in my view 60% of world population needs environmental sensitization and species conservation awareness. Unfortunately, many people are looking more for financial gains from our world resources than thinking about conservation benefit.
NOTE: To support the activities of Lamin Bojang’s museum and the conservation projects in which he is involved, money can be sent to Footstp Eco Lodge The Gambia account of David White the proprietor ffor whom Lamin Bojang works. Money can alternatively be sent to him through Western Union