Meet Malick Suso, The Gambia’s award-winning birdwatching guide

Winner of the ‘Wildlife & Safari’ category at Wanderlust’s 2023 World Guide Awards, Malick talks about helping others discover the magic of The Gambia’s birdli

Team Wanderlust
29 January 2024

Last year, Wanderlust announced Malick Suso as the winning ‘Wildlife & Safari’ guide at the 2023 World Guide Awards. Leading tours around The Gambia, Malick was praised for not only being the ‘best birder’ Chris Packham had ever met, but also for his intoxicating enthusiasm when leading tours and for always sensitively responding to guests’ needs.

Here, we catch up with Malick and learn where it all started, his favourite birds, and his most memorable moments as a guide.

When did you start to think you could channel the birdwatching knowledge you had built up into a career as a guide?

I was interested in birdwatching from a very young age. I was inspired by my uncle, Lamin Sidibeh, who was the first birdwatching guide in The Gambia and knows everything about birds. He later trained me in how to be a guide; now I enjoy encouraging others to follow in this profession.

It’s always heartening when people are able to turn their passions into their career.

What I like about my job is simply getting to wander among the beauty of nature. It’s not just the landscape, either; we have so many colourful birds in this country – The Gambia has over 600 recorded species – and it is always a joy to see one in the wild.

When is the best time to visit The Gambia for birdwatching?

It’s great all year round for spotting birds, but it is especially good between July and November, when they achieve their breeding dress (plumage) and the grasses are not very tall, so it’s easier to spot them. January to early March is also good.

Malick Suso leads a birdwatching tour with Chris Packham (The Gambia Experience)

Where do you personally like to go looking for birds?

Mandina Lodges, which lies on a tributary of the River Gambia, is a great spot, especially around the garden area and the dry woodland. Abuko Nature Reserve’s rice field is also good, as is Farasuto Forest Community Nature Reserve. Any farmland is also perfect for spotting birds, if you arrive early enough. But I am also still discovering new areas within familiar spots, as well as lots of new places upriver.

After all these years of guiding, which bird do you still get excited about seeing?

The black-shouldered kite is impressive. I like the way that he hunts for his prey. He is also beautiful-looking; his colouring is black while his legs are yellow. He also has a nice red eye with a black stripe around it.

What has been your most memorable moment as a guide?

I enjoy all the time I spend with my guests, but most memorable of all was spending time with [TV presenter and naturalist] Chris Packham, because I believe we learnt a lot from each other.

Malick and Chris Packham consult their notes way back in 2011 – the pair have been guiding together for over 25 years (The Gambia Experience)

Chris Packham on Malick

“I first met Malick in 1995 and have co-toured with him more than 25 times in The Gambia and Senegal. Put simply: he is one of the best birders I have met. His knowledge and understanding of avian behaviour, physiology and ecology is top rate and his bird-mimicking skills – calling to species to lure them out – are legendary. He is also honest, decent, diplomatic and sensitive. In all the years that I’ve known him, I’ve never once heard a single complaint; just praise of the highest order.”

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