History of Fathala Wildlife Reserve

Updated on Nov 14, 2019 by Katie Mallalieu

Blog > History of Fathala Wildlife Reserve

Fathala Wildlife Reserve is a success story for combining conservation and tourism. Covering 2000 hectares, the park allows guests to visit an original stretch of African wilderness.

It was back in 2011 when veterinarian, Dr Willem Burger and Arnold Neethling, owner of the Botlierskop Private Game Reserve in South Africa sparked the idea of bringing the Lord Derby Antelope (also known as the Western Derby Eland), the biggest antelope in the world, to South Africa to begin a large conservation project. These animals were, and are still, one of the most endangered in the world.

The two gentlemen boarded a plane to Dakar, the capital of Senegal, without really knowing what to expect on their arrival. Being knowledgeable of the Lord Derby Antelope, they were aware of its existence in Senegal but there were many unanswered questions as to what they would be able to do in terms of moving the animals and essentially creating the project. It soon became clear that their idea would need to take a different direction as these animals were protected from export due to their endangered status so any conservation work would need to be based in Senegal, their native country.

Western Derby Eland

After many long, hard days of meetings to become further informed of the status of the Lord Derbies, Burger and Neethling agreed that it would be key to meet the shareholders of the privately-owned Bandia Wildlife Reserve, where the antelopes had been residents. Following constructive discussions, the decision was made to go ahead with the project and create a carbon copy of Botlierskop Private Game Reserve in South Africa (owned by Neethling) and to host it in the Delta de Saloum National Park, Senegal, just across the border of The Gambia. Six of the endangered antelope were ear-marked for moving to the new wildlife reserve and the park was to be called “Fathala Wildlife Reserve” (Fathala meaning ‘Do not touch’ in Mandinka) – it was planned to be created to the same five-star standards of its South African sister. 

Fathala Wildlife Reserve under construction

The business concept to help fund the conservation project consisted of a fully-equipped lodge, day centre hosting activities, and twenty luxury tented suites for guests. When staying at Fathala you would soon be able to take 2-3 hour guided safari tours, boat trips, local village excursions and even a walk with the lions. 

Walking with the lions

The actual building of the new reserve didn’t start until midway through 2012 and, of course, there were many challenges that Burger and Neethling faced: the time spent needing to ship materials from South Africa to Senegal, the protection of the animals and the reserve as a whole, as well as rehoming many of the animals from other countries in Africa to Fathala Wildlife Reserve. After two years of work the reserve was completed for a grand opening in May 2014 and has since gone from strength to strength, offering many new jobs to people living in the surrounding villages. It is not hard to see why this is now one of the most popular destinations for tourists, and locals, from both Gambia and Senegal. 

Safari tent

Looking ahead to the future, the Fathala Wildlife Reserve has plans to enhance the experience even more for guests by adding a Jacuzzi to each of the rooms and construction of a new day centre is currently underway to really make the most of what experiences can be offered. More importantly, the Western Derby Eland population now sits at approximately 55 animals so the work at Fathala has been instrumental in preventing extinction of this rare species. The reserve now has plans to rehome and conserve several new species of antelope and even look into the possibility of welcoming elephants to Fathala to allow them to thrive in the African wilderness.


If you’d like to visit the Fathala Wildlife Reserve, we would be delighted to arrange a day excursion or longer for you on arrival in The Gambia. Our team of reps can help to ensure you don’t miss out on the chance to see some incredible African wildlife in the reserve, including the Western Derby Eland.


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