Senegal is a located on the west coast of Africa and has a coastline which abuts the Atlantic Ocean. Just off the coast, near the country’s capital Dakar, is a small group of islands that have been uninhabited for many centuries. Called the Magdalene Islands, the closest island is about four kilometres offshore from Dakar.
Because they are uninhabited, the islands have been declared a national park so permits must be obtained from the government before tourists can visit the islands and boats hired in order to be able to make the trip.
Better known by its French name Iles de Madeleines, it is one of the world’s smallest national parks. The park covers just 50 hectares, of which just 15 hectares are comprised of terrain.
The islands are also quite barren, and locals believe that evil spirits may live there. Perhaps one of the reasons that people have chosen not to occupy the islands is because they are covered by a substantial amount of guano, and have a local alternative name that is very descriptive of that fact.
Evil spirits or not, the islands are home to a very rare species of the seabird called the Red-Billed Phaeton. This bird is only found here and on the Galapagos Islands which, given the enormous distance between the two island groups, begs the question of how the bird was either able to develop separately, or to travel between the group of islands.
Apparently, an old priest had lived on one of the islands a couple of centuries ago. The story goes that he had no choice and was made to live there in isolation for some misdemeanour. The remnants of his house can still be seen, but it must have been a miserable life.
One of the islands is called Snake Island. Whilst it may have some snakes, it appears that it may have actually been named after a shipwrecked sailor who was stranded there for a while. The island is certainly rich in other wildlife, apart from the snakes. Apparently it has lots of rats, a fact which convinces me that snakes must be reasonably scarce as rats are a favourite food of snakes.
The island is definitely home to many different types of birds including breeding colonies of cormorants, ospreys, gannets, brown boobies, the crested lark, peregrine falcons, magpie crows, black kites and the phaeton.
Some of the islands are little more than rocks which poke out of the sea, but given the islands’ proximity to Dakar they are worth a visit for those who have a fascination for birds.