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Safely back from a trip of a lifetime

Safely back from a trip of a lifetime

A hippopotamus, chimpanzees as well as crocodiles and a host of colourful birdlife have been recorded by a team of zoology students from the University of Cumbria who’ve returned from a study trip to The Gambia.

It was a case of second time lucky for students and staff after political turmoil in the west African country at the start of the year led to a last minute postponement of the conservation trip, a highlight of the university’s thriving zoology course.

Within days of arriving students, writing in a detailed blog, observed a swallow-tailed bee-eater and scarlet chested sunbird along with a hooded vulture and palm swift.

“They had an amazing- if exhausting – experience,” zoology course leader Dr Roy Armstrong said. “It is a special place that’s jam packed with wildlife and so it proved to be.”

A trip to Bijol island saw the students enjoy miles of crystal clear blue sea and sky with the idyllic peace shattered by the sound of a large group of nesting Caspian Terns. A demonstration by Dr Armstrong showed what happens when interlopers head anywhere near a nesting site with alarm calls easily audible more than 300 metres away.

Student Abbie McNally worked in a group which examined ways of determining whether the individual identification of West African crocodiles was possible. This research could mean the end of applying physical tags – a stressful process for the animals and dangerous for the people doing it. This would help with conservation efforts for the crocodiles and also help identify an individual if it became sick to give it the correct treatment.

“Seeing the crocodiles for the first time is a feeling I will never forget,” Abbie wrote.”We found out that the oldest and largest crocodile at the site is a female, approximately 60 years of age and approximately 3 metres in length. Crocodiles can live to be over 100 years old and have a hierarchical system with the biggest female being the dominant individual.”

She wrote how the pool in Kachkalle has many stories surrounding it and is known as a sacred area to local residents who protect the crocs and believe that if a bucket of water is taken from the pool, the person who bathes in it will always have good luck. There are currently over 100 crocodiles that inhabit the pool and the surrounding area but absolute numbers have not been determined.

While visiting the River Gambia National Park, students saw a group of hippos including a female and her calf. Despite the trip marking the 39th to The Gambia by Dr Armstrong, he recorded his first swamp flycatcher, marabou stork and the stunning ruby-throated bee-eater.

As well as land based studies, a team visited three fish markets which were located at Ghana town, Tanji and Sanyang.

Walking around, browsing the different drying racks containing around 80 lesser Daisy rays, the group met locals who explained more about the fishing and selling methods.

The sight of a huge pod of bottlenose dolphins was another highlight during the trip with 25 showing much interest in the students’ boat and resulting in more memorable moments.

The university has a successful track record in conservation work in the country. Earlier trips have helped confirm the existence of the dwarf crocodile which until recently was thought to be extinct in The Gambia while research has been carried out into the behaviour of the critically endangered Temminck’s red colobus (Piliocolobus badius temminckii.) Work by Cumbria showed that shallow man-made watering holes have been used by the species successfully as they don’t harbour predators that have threatened their existence.

A forest expedition saw students witness West African crocodiles, green monkeys and red colobus monkeys feeding. The wide variety of night time creatures in the area were also recorded thanks to a bat detector with the frequency of echo clicks proving a large variety of species present.

And while the group are now back in the Cumbria their work continues.

“We have thousands of pictures to analyse and reports to write,” Dr Mic Mayhew, zoology lecturer explained. “The trip is an important part of the students’ course work and we’re proud to be the only university to be able to offer such a varied experience to all students.”

To read the full blog of the trip go to:  https://gambia2017blog.wordpress.com