Located 60 km north of St. Louis, Djoudj National Park is a 16 000 ha wetland with a large lake surrounded by streams, ponds and backwaters. It is a vital sanctuary for 1.5 million birds, as well as an additional 3 million that migrate here every year from September to April to flee the European cold.
After dodging snares southern Europe, where they risk hunters’ rifles, crossing the Mediterranean sea and the Sahara desert, the birds arrive at their first oasis, Djoudj National Park which counts over 400 migratory bird species. Here you’ll find pink flamingoes and great white pelicans in the thousands, other species such as purple herons, African spoonbills, great egrets and cormorants who regularly nest in this park.
The park is the third largest bird sanctuary in the world and is one of few oasis in the Sahel. Inscribed as a natural site on the World Heritage List in 1981 for its biological diversity and exceptional aesthetic qualities, the park not only shelters a plethora of birds but various other animal species. Monitor lizards, pythons and crocodiles can also be found slithering in its greenery. It is also a dwelling place for mammals such as cows, patas monkey, warthogs, hyenas, Libyan cats, servals and dorcas gazelles.
The park is situated in the Djoudj bolong and takes its name from it. Bolong, a borrowed word from the Mandinka language, is a term used only in Senegal and the Gambia to refer to a salt water channel lined with mangroves. While the biodiversity of this site is undeniably rich, the site still faces conservation challenges that threaten its integrity. The Diama Dam construction has contributed to the disruption of the water balance in the park. To their credit, local communities of Djoudj are actively insuring the protection of their environment.
Without sanctuaries like Djoudj, there would be no birds in Europe. It also happens to make Senegal one of the biggest bird-watching destinations in the world. Though it has graced UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger twice, it was nonetheless taking off which is a testament to preservation efforts and should urge us to conserve such sites for generations to come.
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