Beyond Turtles

Ananda Day - Senegal

November 24, 2009

Up until this point it’s been all about turtles. French turtle vocabulary, cleaning, feeding, and picking up after turtles, turtle facts (Sulcatar turtles can grow up to 100 kilos and 150 years old), and even a turtle shirt with the eleven specials of Senegalese turtles on it. This past week I finally saw more than turtles as I received my tour of the whole reserve.

IMG_0389Ousman, one of the two tour guides, and I started our walk on the official paths and he taught me about all of the medicinal plants protected here. Curing maladies from gallstones to appendicitis’s, some of the plants have more than three-hundred known uses. While people don’t come here every day to pick leaves or bark, the protected fauna here acts as a hospital and pharmacy for many that cannot and could not afford official medical care. We then reached the brush. While it was not exactly clear, there seemed to be a fairly wide path which was about ¾ of a foot wide. Yep, it wasn’t a path, just the trail left by some flipping massive snake. No big deal or anything, right? At least it explained why Ousman was basically hopping.

I thought he had just slid off his rocker a little bit, but he was quite justified in the hopping I think. When we got to the edge of the reserve, the first of two struggles with the towns people was obvious-the fence. First, some people had cut through it so that they could dump their trash somewhere… on reserved land. Yet others had tried to reinforce the fence in places because they fear some of the things that are protected might cross onto their homesteads. Giant snakes perhaps? Nearing the place where the reserve boarders the local soccer pitch, the fence simply disappeared, and it was obvious why as I saw sheep and goats being herded off the reserve land after they had finished grazing. Being a complete outsider it was interesting to hear how these people were breaking the laws of the reserve from Ousman, and then to listen to him talk to them about the coming holidays as we passed them Not even a single reprimand from Ousman nor an explanation from the shepherds. Is it a lack of ability to enforce the rules, or just something that is tolerated.

Either way, it was sad to see one of Senegal’s premier reserves trampled from herds and littered with massive trash piles (some of which were burning). But who am I in this situation, for I don’t even know what other options these people have, if there are any for that matter. For a first impression, I’m struck by the juxtaposition of views held by the people of Noflaye. At once the town loves the reserve for its plants, educational functions, and the pristine land it saves for their enjoyment. Yet the people disrespect the purpose of the land and fear it for what it protects.

Ananda Day