Photo Credit: chabi-yaouré nelly faï

Adapting to changes around the W-Arly-Pendjari complex in West Africa


How can species conservation in West Africa’s W-Arly-Pendjari complex (WAP) adapt to changes in the protected area management landscape? Muyang Enjoh Achah Programme Officer, IUCN Global Species Programme shares her perspective from IUCN’s Cameroon office.

The River Niger and its tributaries is the source of life throughout the WAP Complex and beyond in West Africa
Credits : Giraffe Conservation Foundation

When the privately-owned African Parks Network (APN) assumed management responsibility for Pendjari national park, Benin in mid-2017, other conservation organisations operating in the region had to begin adapting to a new reality.

This included three NGOs earmarked for support by IUCN’s Save Our Species and its African Wildlife initiative. These three included the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF), Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and L'Association des Campements Touristiques pour l'Appui à la Gestion du Parc Régional W (ACTAG-PRW) - working in and around the WAP complex.

As important as it is as a stand-alone protected area, Pendjari is also a key part of the 1-million-hectare W-Arly-Pendjari complex spanning Benin, Burkina-Faso and Niger. Together, WAP is one of West Africa’s most important biodiversity safe-havens. The landscape also includes Arly national park in Burkina-Faso and the transboundary W-park, named after a w-shaped series of bends in the Mekrou river. For wildlife, the WAP complex is a key remaining regional stronghold for threatened species including Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), West African Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis ssp peralta), African wild Dogs (Lycaon pictus), Elephants (Loxodonta africana), Lions (Panthera leo) and Leopards (Panthera pardus), says Muyang.

To eliminate duplication of effort and optimise synergies, NGOs operating in the region were encouraged to coordinate with each other and with other programmes funded by the European Commission across this complex landscape. These collaborations were established especially on key activities related to species monitoring and anti-poaching efforts. And while the trans-boundary dimension of the WAP complex made synchronized intervention inherently difficult to begin with – the developments with APN have complicated coordination efforts further.  The West African Savannah Foundation plays a coordination role to promote synergy between the technical partners and donors in the different countries, explains Muyang. How these NGOs might adapt to APN’s presence remains to be seen – it certainly brings both opportunities and challenges.

Historically the APN business model had been to assume full responsibility and control for all aspects of park management in all of its protected areas. Only in this way remaining in partnership with a national government, can it guarantee results. Thus all actions to be performed in and around Pendjari, must be performed in coordination with or subject to the approval of APN explains Muyang. What is more, APN is currently preparing to assume management of Benin’s portion of the W-park too.

The health of the WAP complex is threatened by poaching, habitat loss due to encroachment and poorly coordinated governance by different park authorities. Better park management will support other conservation outcomes for WAP. Given its relatively large surface area, there is potential for species numbers to bounce back in the long term for example if these inter-related issues can be addressed in a synchronised approach. The park is home also to at least ten tourist camps and hunting concessions. If well managed, increased visitor numbers could generate income for local community members and the protected area authorities involved. What is more, its location in the dry Sahel zone of West Africa gives the complex an absolute advantage over the long-term in that habitat encroachment can be controlled in this area relatively easily, explains Muyang. 

Conversely the route to realising these benefits for all concerned is complicated by the size and geography of the WPA complex. With three different government authorities managing the area, there is significant scope to improve coordination and management effectiveness. In the past, for example, species inventories were completed using unconventional methods, making it difficult to accurately assess species populations or trends in these numbers over time. Perhaps most critically however, the management plan for the complex that was developed for all five parks can now no longer be implemented on the Benin side. Secondly trans-boundary operations (e.g. patrols) conducted across Arly (Burkina Faso) and Pendjari (Benin) have become difficult to perform.

Thirdly, the risk of human animal conflict is increasing in terms of poaching and transhumance. About 10,000 people reside in the buffer zone of the park complex performing agricultural activities including transhumance –a seasonal movement of livestock between summer and winter pastures. While it affects just 5% of the total area such activity causes conflict between wildlife and people, says Muyang. Various locally-focused socio-economic studies confirm transhumance as a key driver for poaching and killing of wildlife in the park. Muyang elaborates, “if communities had alternative sources of income and protein, poaching rates of antelopes would likely decrease in the area, in turn, increasing the prey base for carnivores and so boosting their survival rates”.

Planned activities for SOS funding include performing bio-monitoring of wildlife species to produce reliable data on their status and distribution in the WAP. Projects would also help put in place structures to develop the socio-economic activities of some of the neighbouring communities as well as mechanisms to reduce human wildlife conflicts and the bush-meat supply chain. Similarly, they aim to improve coordination efforts in park management while training park authorities on law enforcement actions. Finally, the GCF has planned to support the government of Niger in their giraffe translocation exercise to increase the animals’ habitat range and reduce risk of disease affecting this threatened population.

Achieving project objectives means adaptive management. How this can be realised with specific activities such as anti-poaching patrols, species monitoring or even the planned giraffe translocation work remains unclear. Such activities benefit from adopting standard and best practices among other things.

A coordination meeting recently held in Niamey, Niger helped identify gaps and ways of harmonising intervention actions to ensure efficient implementation and use of available funds. It is an important step on a long-journey toward making the W-Arly-Pendjari complex West Africa’s most important biodiversity safe-haven.

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