By Kebba Ansu Manneh
Environmentalists across the country have debunked the press release issued by the Department of Forestry on the US Government’s acquisition of Bijilo Forest Park and West Africa Livestock Innovation Centre (WALIC) as false and misleading which was designed to sway the attention of the public from the truth of the matter.
The Department of Forestry issued a press release on Tuesday, 1st of November 2022, claiming that no inch of Monkey Park will be affected by the construction of a new US embassy, and accused the Gambia Environmental Alliance (GEA) of misleading the public about this issue.
The Department of Forestry has also said the public must remember that the Bijilo Forest Park has been gazetted since 1952 and the peripheral boundaries have never changed as indicated in the wrong Google map presented by GEA.
However, The Gambia Environmental Alliance was the first to react to the press release of the department of forestry unequivocally refuting its press release on the acquisition of the famous Bijilo Monkey Park, describing the aforementioned missive as a hoax aim to mislead the public.
“Contrary to what has been contained in that misleading communique, the Gambia Environmental Alliance has never posted any such information on any of its social media forums as the team is known for its unalloyed stance in fighting for the protection of the neglected Forest Act which is under the purview of the Forestry Department as a result of the Department’s lack of interest and continuous betrayal to the nation for selling our national heritage,” GEA disclosed in its reply to the Department of Forestry.
It added: “The Gambia Environmental Alliance since its inception has been updating the public with facts surrounding this issue with utmost sincerity and transparency in all its communication to ensure the public outcry against this heinous act of extorting the forest park is effectively heard.
As the only known, Monkey Park that has been in existence for over 71 years in the Country, any attempt to sell any portion of this land will be strongly challenged.”
GEA continued to remind the forestry department and the government of The Gambia as a party to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which recognizes the Red Colobus as an endangered species and with the current population of the Red Colobus at the monkey park seriously declining, any attempt to mislead and encouragement of the illegal acquisition of this land by the Department of Forestry should be considered a total betrayal to the country.
“GEA-led petition to nullify the acquisition of Monkey Park has reached more than one thousand nine hundred (1900) signatures so far, and copies of this petition will be shared with all the conventional parties to immediately rescind the government’s decision on this issue,” GEA emphasised in its reaction to Department of Forestry.
Also reacting to the presser of the Department of Forestry is Dr Ahmed Manjang who observed that it is the Department of Forestry that is misleading the public and not the Gambia Environmental Alliance. He noted that the Department of Forestry is the one that is misleading Gambians to justify the takeover of Monkey Park which is contrary to the Forest Act
“It looks like it is the Department of Forestry that is misleading Gambians to justify the takeover of Monkey Park which is contrary to the Forest Act.
Citizens need to realize that there is only one Bijilo Forest Park which is commonly called Monkey Park. The Bijilo Forest Park was gazetted in 1952,” Dr Ahmed Manjang reacted.
He added: “Bijilo Forest Park originally covers an area of 51.3 hectares. It includes the entire space referred to today as Monkey Park, the Bijilo Forest Visitors’ Centre, and the West Africa Livestock Improvement Centre (WALIC) which was originally occupied by ITC. It was opened to the general public in 1991 and an NGO, the Gambia-German Forestry Project created a nature trail across the park which is still there.”
He emphasized that it is misleading for the Department or anyone to claim that Bijilo Forest Park is different from Monkey Park, or they are two separate locations. He argued that Monkey Park is an integral part of Bijilo Forest Park just like the visitors’ center and just like the Wildlife offices inside Abuko Nature Reserve as part of the nature reserve.
“No amount of fencing can separate Bijilo Forest Park from Monkey Park. Any inch taken away from the visitors’ center, WALIC, or any part of the forest means an inch has been taken away from Monkey Park! The Department should therefore not mislead the people,” Dr Manjang further explained.
“Furthermore” he added, “the Forest Act gives the power to the minister responsible for de-reserve a forest park provided it is public.