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Found 7 results

  1. Hi all! It is with huge excitement that it is only two days until begin my journey to Pendjari National Park in Benin. The journey from Jersey, UK, to Pendjari will be a lengthy one (see below for a full itinerary) but from everything I have read and heard, it will be more than worth it! Of course the opportunity to experience one of gems of West Africa will be more than enough in itself, but I'm dreaming of lion, elephant and beautiful korrigum and roan - and, who knows, might I even come across the elusive cheetah? I will be staying at the government-run Pendjari hotel deep within the park (sadly the Pendjari lodge, spectacular though it looks, is out of my budget on a solo trip), and I am travelling with Jolinaiko Eco-Tours. As always, my trusty Canon 750d will be in tow and I hope to have some passable photos to share with you all in the new year. I'm a little ashamed to say work curtailed my most recent attempt at a TR (a delightful trip to Selous and Ruaha in October), but I'll be sure to hold myself to this TR, especially as I hope to have TRs from Niokolo-Koba (April) and Zakouma (March) to share soon. See you on the other side! Day 1 (18th December) - Travel from Jersey to London Day 2 - Travel from London to Cotonou, via Brussels and Abidjan Day 3 - Drive from Cotonou to Dassa Zoume (central Benin) Day 4 - Drive from Dassa Zoume to Pendjari Hotel Day 5-12 - Safari from Pendjari Hotel, with particular focus on lion and elephant Day 12 - Begin journey home Tom
  2. Since African Parks took the management of Pendjari National Park, Benin, on 30th of May 2017, I have been reading a lot about the vast and underknown WAP complex, a large wilderness complex shared between Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. We are usually more used with Austral and Eastern Africa safari destinations than Central and West Africa national parks and we know nearly nothing concerning these West destinations. All started when @Paolo kindly sent me a French aerial survey of the park. I then understood why all my web resaerches in English were worthless. In these countries the oficial language is French so the big majority of the scientific papers and management documents of the WAP are all in French! Pendjari National Park is a protected area located in Northern benin, at the frontier with Burkina Faseo. It is 2750 km2 national park inside a larger ecosystem including hunting blocks declared by Unesco as 5000 km2 biosphere reserve in 1986. The vegetation kind covering the area is called the Sudanian Savanna, which lies between the Guinean savanna (to the South) and the sahalian savana (to hte North). The productivity of this dense savanna is less than in Eastern and Southern Africa, which reason why the density of wildlife do not reach the levels we can find in the famous national parks of East Africa. The park was named because of the Pendjari river which marks the boundary between Burkina and Benin, and delimits the Northern limit of the park. The Atakora range is located South to the park and offers impresive landscapes with high cliffs and typical Somba villages. The Mekrou is another perennial river West of the Park that delimits the frontier between Benin, Burkina and Niger further to the East. The Pendjari river belongs to the Volta basin while the Mekrou belongs to the Niger basin. Pendjari is one of the protected areas created in 1954 under the French Colonial Administration. With the independance of Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso, the area was divided in several smaller entities. This 30.000 km2 larger area is called WAP for W-Arly-Pendjari and even sometimes WAPOK if the Oti Keran protected areas of Togo are included. WAP is the most important protected area of West Africa along with Niokolo Koba (NK) in Senegal and Comoé in Ivory Coast. Contrary to these two last areas, the WAP complex is still in good shape. Niokolo Koba and Comoé large game populations have suffered a steep decline because of illegal poaching, livestock encroachment, poor management and lack of funds. Even if NK and Comoé are world heritage sites, they did not receive the same atention by international partners than the WAP complex, this explains why WAP has always received better funding to put in place adequate management to conserve the wilderness. Well, as said before, WAP is composed of several protected areas. In Benin, the Pendjari National Park along with the huge Pendjari Hunting reserve (sub-divided into Batia and Porga hunting blocks) and the smaller Konkombri Hunting Reserve, sometimes also called Atakora game reserve (if included Mekrou Hunting reserve, but belonging to the W Park). All these protected areas are protected as a Biosphere Reserve as sais before. Reference: To the Nort-East of the country, the W National Park is a 5000 km2 protected area located South to the Mekrou river. The Djona Hunting reserve and the Mekrou Hunting reserves respectively lie to the South and to the East of the park. In Niger, The W National Park Niger was declared in 1996 as a world heritage site by the UNESCO. It is named by the very special the shape of the Niger river delimiting the Western boundary of the park. Tamou Game Reserve is located North to the Tapoa river to the Northern limit of the Park. On the Eastern side of the Niger river was declared the Dosso Partial Reserve, where little wildlife still remains today. In Burkina Faso, there is a a very complex system of protected areas focusing on the Arly and the W National Parks. The Burkina W National Park , along with the Nigerien and the Benin parts, are supposedly managed as a single protected area, which was established as a 10.000 km2 Transboundary Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO in 2002, and was the first of its kind in Africa at the time of its creation. References: The Arly block is divided into several hunting areas and game reserves with diferent categories of protection. The Arly National Park is not yet gazetted. It is composed of the Arly and Madjoari game reserves and is in fact managed as a national park. The most significant protected areas surrounding Arly are Singou, Pama and Konkoumbari game and hunting reserves. Pendjari National Park was proposed as an extension of the W Niger heritage site in 2006 which was rejected by the UNESCO. The three countries were invited to re-asses the proposal and to ensure continuity between W Niger and Pendjari and to considere buffer areas. Plans are now ongoing to declare the whole WAP complex as an extension of the existing W Niger heritage site in 2017. References: Arly a similar vegetation compared to Pendjari, but W receives less rains than the two former blocks (indeed the Northern end of Tamou Reserve is more likely considered as a Sahelian ecosystem with the typical tiger bushes). It seems that Pendjai-Arly did not suffer from the 70’s hard droughts impacting the region, which was not the case of W park. W Niger and Burkina now receives 100mm of rain less than during the 60’s. We now understand that not all the entities forming the WAP receive the same category of protection. Thus they do not all receive the same fundings and some areas have received more atention than others with the consequence of unequal conservation perforances throughout the block. There are two sperate, marked regimes in the region: a a rainy season followed by a long dry season. During the rainy season some grasslands are partially flooded along the Pendjari river, which appears to be the perfect habitat for Buffon kobs during the dry season. The rainy season also fills many ponds along the Pendjari that start to dry from October and at the climax very few ponds still remains with water. Some famous ponds are Bori, Bali, Marre sacrée… Wildlife concentrate around these last water points during the dry season. The Pendjari and the Mekrou rivers are perrenial, the other rivers dry up at the end of the dry season. The Unesco heritage site declaration of W Niger and the latter declaration of W Transboundary Biosphere reserve and Pendjari Biosphere Reserve helped these areas to receive important fundings from international donors in the last two decades. In W National Park, the first important project called ECOPAS was set up European Union from 2001 to 2008 to recover the park wildlife and to coordinate the three countries administration. The first fase of the project (2001-2005) had a budget of 9 million USD equillay shared by the three countries for a period of 5 years. During the project ECOPAS, the total park budget increased to 5,7 MUSD per year (560 MUSD/km2) according to the Action and Management Plan, and focused on administration, coordination, infrastructure construction and renovation (rangers posts, roads, water points) and law enforcement. Before the ECOPAS project, only W Niger had an important road network for tourism and law enforcement. ECOPAS main achievement was the creation of hundreds of new roads, especially in W Benin which had little infrastructure before the project. For this reason, only one fith of the project budget was allowed to law enforcement. In comparison, Pendjari Action and Management plan only considered a budget of 1 M USD per year (equivalent 225 USD/km2). ECOPAS ended in 2008 and the park suffered of lack of funds an manpower until the start of the WAP project in 2010. Some authors indicate that wildlife decreased until the beginning of PAPE project due to poaching (conclusion from transect foot surveys). PAPE project was launched in 2011 as the continuation of ECOPAS project, and ended in 2016 and extended to the whole WAP complex (including Arly and Pendjari blocks). PAPE main goal was to sustain in time the results of ECOPAS and to involve further the local comunities. The first fase budget was 21 MUSD for a period of 4 years and focused on coordination between the three countries, infrasctucture building, law enforcement and tourism facilities. Pendjari National Park also received significant help from international donors to support the park activities since the eighties. (projects PAPN 1985-1990 and PGRN until 1999). In 2001 was launched the PCGPN – Project thanks to German cooperation agencies (GTZ/KfW) and thanks to the French cooperation agency (AFD) in a lower proportion, followed by continuous project funded by the German cooperation (GiZ). The PAGAP project only extended to the W Benin and Pendjari parks at same time of the GiZ and PAPE projects. Arly has always received less attention, probably suffering from the lack of visibility. W and Pendjari also clearly benefites from their Biosphere Reserve status contrary to Arly. I will only name the projects PAGEM-PRONAGEM (18,5 USDM – 15 years) and PAUCOF (1,8 billions FCFA) . This last one extended from 2001-2004. As far as I understand, elephant poaching has never been controled to accepted levels. While Africa suffered from a huge elephant wave since 2010 aproximatively, WAP was not the exception. I understand that this is one of the reasons why the Benin government decided to give the management of Pendjari to a private partner (African Parks). Reference: Before African Parks management, the park was under CENAGREF administration. CENAGREF is the agency in charge of the management and administration of the Benin protected areas network. In order to reduce tensions with the local comunities, it has been decided to involve these comunities in the management of Pendjari. Some local villagers thus assist the park for law enforcement and wildlife monitoring. AVIGREF was created to sustain the park conservation, to promote the 28 villagers communities in the peripery, and to reduce human pressures on the park. If AVIGREF is responsible for the salaries of the personal in the park activities, it benefits from the revenues from the hunting industry in the Porga, Batia and Konkombri hunting blocks. Up to 30% of the hunting revenues directly go to AVIGREF. The Porga and Batia hunting areas include some limited extensive human activities at their periphery, but inside the Biosphere Reserve. They also receive the meet from the animal hunted by foreign hunters, they can cut grass in some areas of the park... Reference: I do not know what agreement did reached APN with AVIGREF and the government of Benin about it, but I know from APN newsletters that they will build a 170 km fence, which might include or exclude these areas. I know that AVIGREF have a very positive perception of African Parks. Reference:és/ I will go back later on the park revenues, needs and the park budget just before APN arrived. To be continued...
  3. ~ This 2 June, 2017 article from Reuters explains the steps being taken by Benin to rehabilitate the W-Arli-Pendjari complex, described as the region's largest remaining expanse of savannah. Partnered with African Parks, a 10-year project includes placing security measures, preparing for ecotourism, and protecting existing habitat.
  4. Here is a very rare sighting from a western africa cheetah in Pendjari National Park. There is an estimated 15 cheetah remaining in the sudani savannas from Western Africa, all located in the WAP ecosystem. There park should be shortly managed by the South African foundation African Parks
  5. A western roan antelope bull So, Serengeti Shall Not Die and long shall live the Okavango. Sure, I vote for that. But what of the lesser-known, truly unappreciated wilderness areas of a different Africa? The Anglo-centric safari world is practically ignorant of “French Africa”. It is easy to dismiss French Africa altogether in the name of safety if one imagines it as an undifferentiated pool of chaos and political instability. Stepping back from “Palin-ism”, however, there are gems to be found in French Africa. Benin is one such gem (by the way, do you even know how to pronounce it?). And Benin’s premier park, Parc National de la Pendjari, just may be the last intact, still-functioning West African savanna park that offers a safe and uncomplicated visit. Given the dearth of information on the park and on the logistics of a visit, the initial research required was painstaking. Once in touch with Jolinaiko Eco Tours (which provided the guides and the vehicle) and Pendjari Lodge, however, the planning was smooth sailing. With Jolinaiko’s old reliable Nissan Patrol driven by Ben Mensah (a Ghanaian who speaks primarily English and dabbles in French) and with Boris Medatinsa guiding (a native French-speaking Beninese who speaks good English as well), I stayed six nights at Pendjari Lodge in January 2015 (more detail on all the logistics later). Look at the distribution maps of any number of savanna mammalian species of Africa, and you will invariably see most of East and Southern Africa well blotted and a narrow band of blot from Sudan/Chad/CAR extending west to Senegal. This narrow band is pinched between the southerly tropical breezes of the Congolese Forest/Atlantic Ocean and the desiccating northerly blasts from the Sahara Desert, resulting in a perfect “tweener” climate accommodating savanna biomes similar to those in East and Southern Africa. Numerous physical barriers (such as the highlands of Cameroon) to terrestrial animals along this narrow band served to separate the gene pools of these animals, creating morphological differences among same species – resulting in the familiar species such as elephant, buffalo, lion, etc., looking a bit funny (?) in the heart of West Africa. Buffalo Pendjari National Park is part of the much larger WAP (W, Arli (sometimes “Arly”) and Pendjari) complex spanning Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. Pendjari lies within the Sudan-Guinea savanna zone and is characterized by densely wooded, tall grass savanna and open floodplains on poor soil – comparable to the miombo woodlands and dambo grasslands of Zambia or Tanzania. The seasons are reversed in Pendjari, however, with the dry season lasting from November to April. The mythical Harmattan winds blow from the Sahara Desert to the Gulf of Guinea between December and February, producing variably milky skies in their path. And although its intensity wanes by the time it reaches southern Benin, Harmattan is responsible for a thin layer of fine dust on the floors of the seaside hotels in Cotonou, the commercial capitol of Benin located on the Gulf. A safari to Pendjari invariably commences at Natitingou, a northern outpost reachable from Contonou in a full day’s drive. “Nati” is a bustling town, the last of the kind before open space unfolds to the north. (Maun, Botswana was once Nati-like, I imagine.) The road from there to Pendjari skirts the Atacora Mountains, which are the source of the Pendjari River. The unassuming park entrance at Batia is reached in two hours from Nati, with another 60km to go to Pendjari Lodge. Pendjari Lodge (not to be confused with Pendjari Hotel, which is an old but still usable government-run establishment on the Pendjari River) is ideally situated between two primary dry season watering spots: (1) the Pendjari River and its various lagoon offshoots; and (2) Mare Bali (“Mare” is French for pond), which is a small sump area lagoon that holds water all year. As a practical matter, nearly all game drives in Pendjari occur on the quasi-circular circuit encompassing Pendjari Lodge, Mare Fogou/Mare Diwouni, Mare Sacrée/Mare Canard, Mare Yangouali and Mare Bali (see map below). Map of the park hanging from the mess area of Pendjari Lodge (South of Mare Bali, there are no watering points and thus scant game; east of Mare Fogou, the roads are impassable in spots; and west of Mare Yangouali, the game is skittish due to the general lack of vehicle traffic.) At the start of each game drive, a decision is made whether to push northward toward the Pendjari River and the lagoons or head south toward Mare Bali. Either way, thick Combretum/Terminalia scrub for the first several kilometers gives way to more open woodland. Northbound from the lodge, the landscape opens up decidedly near the Pendjari River, where western kobs, warthogs and black crowned cranes forage on the floodplains dotted with baobab trees. Elephants seem to prefer this better-watered area more so than the south. Southbound from the lodge, the road passes a few hills on the way to Mare Bali, where the thirsty animals and birds of the dry interior gather. There is an observation deck at Mare Bali, and countless hours can be spent observing hippos, crocodiles and western kobs, along with a multitude of water-loving birds. A typical scene at Mare Bali -- a female western kob watering with crocodiles around Black crowned cranes on a floodplain near Mare Fogou
  6. ~ This article from France 24 Observers describes the work of twin brothers in Benin who have invented an eco-friendly oven as a means of directly combatting deforestation. Franck and Francis work with Zacoza which develops inventions to protect the environment. Their oven burns palm nut shells which were previously discarded, unused. Although the oven's €83 cost is prohibitive for lower income Benin residents, groups of women have joined together to buy several ovens for communal use.
  7. Now for something completely different… Benin! In a couple of weeks, I am off to spend six nights in Pendjari National Park in Benin. (How this trip came about is a story onto itself, but I will spare the details.) Pendjari is located in the extreme northwest of Benin. Given that Benin does not have any charter flights (in fact, when needed, prop planes are borrowed from the neighboring Togo at an astronomical price), it will take me two days from Cotonou to Pendjari and two days back by road. Pendjari lies within the Sudan-Guinea savanna zone. Many species synonymous with “traditional safari countries” in East and Southern Africa occur in Pendjari, but most of those species have evolved slightly differently there. For instance, the lions have scraggly manes (typical of West Africa); the buffalos are of the hybrid forest/savanna variety (there is a huge population in Pendjari); and the cheetahs are pale in color (sightings are rare). As for the antelope species, most of them are subtly different also: western roan (the male develops a very black mask that extends down its throat); western hartebeest (like a lelwel hartebeest but with a white band that connects the eyes); western kob (a duller version of the Uganda kob); harnessed bushbuck (stripes and spots in the form of a harness on the flanks); Sing-sing waterbuck (a defassa waterbuck with a reddish coat and not as much white in the face); nagor reedbuck (a bohor reedbuck with stout horns); and finally the korrigum, which is the largest race of topi. Noteworthy West African bird species in Pendjari include Beaudouin’s snake eagle, short-toed snake eagle, double-spurred spurfowl, vinaceous dove, Senegal parrot, violet turacco, blue-breasted kingfisher, blue-bellied roller, little green bea-eater, red-throated bee-eater, bearded barbet, Vieillot’s barbet and yellow-crowned gonolek, to mention a few. It shall be an excellent adventure. Gotta go learn some French now…

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