A RIVER, A MONSTER AND RESPONSIBLE TOURISM
Forbes Africa|February - March 2021
An innovative Gambian initiative, several decades in the making, is at last ready to emerge from its long incubation, turning cryptozoology into currency.
ALASTAIR HAGGER

AS THE ROUGH BEAST THAT WAS 2020 slouches off into the past, a more benevolent creature is stirring. Some say it’s a horned serpent, or a horse-giraffe-crocodile hybrid; others call it a fearsome dragon, or a rainbow-colored mystery that descends with the heavy rains.

It’s the Ninki Nanka, and its powerful charisma could be a shot in the arm for the Gambian tourism industry in a postCovid environment hungry for adventure with a conscience.

Tales of African cryptids are common across the continent: the Congo River has its quasi-plesiosaur Mokèlé-mbèmbé, Botswana has its village-stomping Kgogomodumo.

The swamp-dwelling Ninki Nanka of West African folklore is another frightening enigma, weaponized in the evening-stories of weary parents to deter curious children from venturing too far after dark.

There are still local fishermen who refuse to enter certain creeks, such is the Ninki Nanka’s ancestral resonance. Some believe encounters spell certain death, unless the dragon is viewed in a mirror, but a scale recovered from its body unlocks a magical wish for an adventurous survivor.

Now, in 2021, an innovative Gambian initiative, several decades in the making, is at last ready to emerge from its long incubation, turning cryptozoology into currency in a way that promises to deliver real-world benefits to local communities.

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