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Patrick Egwu

The great but untold truth about about abundant big game in West Africa!!!

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Western Africa, the big region of Africa sandwiched between the Sahara Desert to the North, and the Atlantic to the South, and which extends from Senegal to Cameroon, or arguably Nigeria on a Westerly to Easterly basis, is a region which is more often recognized for its diversity in human culture, or at best, rainforest wildlife..... In fact, many of West Africa's most important wildlife areas are yet to be properly researched and documented. For some reason, the researchers prefer to go to the Eastern or Southern parts of the continent, and usually only come to West in search of tropical forest species, especially primates.... Even more amazing, is that majority of the indigenous people of the region who where born within the last eighty or so years do not know or have even the vaguest idea of what obtains locally in terms of wildlife, nor do they understand the importance of such. Governments have even failed where they should be responsible. Often relegating nature conservation to the back-ground, or showing a lack of basic understanding of the concept that in order for any society to remain truly sustainable, development must be in tandem with Nature. Indeed, a prime example of such lack of understanding happened within the past two years, when Nigeria's Federal Government handed over a federal run reserve to a State (regional government), thereby going against the grain of International conservation practices. Equally amazing, is how governments often talk about tourism development, and base such development on the construction of golf-courses, and big luxury hotels, amongst others, whilst ignoring the very thing that is unique about West Africa - the wildlife.... It seems in the West, we still have a lot to learn from East and Southern Africa, especially South Africa...

 

Sometimes one finds it thoroughly amusing when there are comments proclaiming that there are no more populations of any of Africa's 'big five' in West Africa.... Such comments are as far from the truth as there can ever be, because in West Africa we have lost very little, and even more interestingly, the wildlife of the West African bush exhibits many significant differences from what obtains in the better known areas of East or Southern Africa. In fact, of the big five, the only animal we have tragically lost is the Western Black Rhino, which died out in the wilds of Northern Cameroon in recent years.......

 

In West Africa, we still have numerous viable populations of bush elephants, West African savanna buffalo which number in the thousands in Northern Benin, South Western Niger, and South-Eastern Burkina Faso, as well as the conservation complexes straddling the Northern borders of Nigeria and Cameroon. These West African buffalos are the West's equivalent of East and Southern Africa's Cape buffalos, but tend to vary in color from orange brown to black individuals within the same heard, and usually carrying more slender horns.... West Africa is also home to several lion communities, with the conserved area straddling Northern Nigeria and Cameroon thought to contain up to three hundred individuals. A notable difference in the lions of West Africa is that nearly if not all adult males, though large bodied, are scantily manned, or almost maneless..... At times, it is not easy to distinguish between male and female lions from afar. Indeed, very contrary to the popular belief that male lions as standard exhibit prominent manes, thereby indicating clear difference between the sexes. We also have leopards through out the region, spotted hyena, and even a few pockets of cheetah, and wild dog...... Another noteworthy difference in the West African bush is the absence of zebra, wildebeest, or impala. Animals which have in our psyche become symbolic of Africa.... The roles that these animals play as part of the food chain for predators, or rather wildlife network, is replaced in West Africa by the buffon/Senegal kob (much similar to the lechwe of Southern Africa), Western Roan Antelope (the region around Northern Benin is home to the largest concentration of wild roan antelope in the world), Western Hartebeest, Korrigum (the West African version of the topi/tsessebe), Giant Eland (West African version of the Eland, larger than that found in other regions of the continent), defassa waterbuck (In West Africa waterbucks have a more shaggy coat, and are reddish-brownish in color), red-fronted gazell (West African replacement for thompson's gazell or springbok), Western bush-buck (different coat markings from the rest of the continent), tantalus monkey (West African version of the vervet/green monkey), red patas monkey (In West Africa patas monkeys are reddish brown)...... In west Africa, black backed jackals are replaced by side-stripped jackals, and the brown hyena's of Southern Africa are replaced by stripped hyenas. The West Afrian/Nigerian giraffe is also endemic to the region, so too is the guinea baboon, though olive baboon is dominant in terms of distribution.

 

For obvious reasons, it is not practical to highlight all the different characteristics that makes wildlife in the West African bush different from the well documented wildlife areas of Eastern or Southern Africa, but one hopes that this article is an insight to the 'tip of the iceburg' waiting to be fully explored in a sustainable manner.

 

Great 'big game' wildlife areas in West Africa include:

 

Niokolo Koba National Park in Senegal (Famous for its savanna dwelling chimpanzees, and some of West Africa's, and indeed Africa's last wild-dog populations. Other notable species include around 100 lions, elephants, buffalo, roan, etc.... Classic West African wildlife).

 

Mole Game Reserve in Ghana (All the regular species are here.... Lions are thought to be 'thin' on the ground, and possibly leopards too, but there are around 800 elephants here, so its worth a visit).

 

Arli National Park in Burkina Faso (Plenty wildlife, typical of Northern West Africa).

 

W National park straddling the borders of Niger, Benin, and Burkina Faso, and home to huge populations of ungulates, some of the healthiest populations in Africa, and along with with neighboring conservation areas is home to the largest concentration of roan antelopes in the world. Here, roan antelope herds numbering in the hundreds are common. Parc W as it is often referred to in the Francophone countries where it is situated, is also home to some of West Africa's last wild Cheetahs.

 

Pendjari National Park in Benin is contingous to W national park, and therefore harbors the same wildlife..... The park is famous for its lions.

 

Yankari Game Reserve in Nigeria (A lot of wildlife. Unusually waterbuck is the most common antelope in this reserve, and equally unusual is the fact that these antelopes are the most favored species by the local lions, though researchers traditionally believe that lions else-where have a disliking for this particular species, due to its oily flesh).

 

Gashaka-Gumti National Park (This Nigerian national park is a special case, and is home to a staggering 103 species of mammals alone. The park is home to some of West Africa's last wild-dog, giraffe, giant eland, and klipspringer populations. It is the only site in West Africa if you exclude Cameroon, to harbor the giant forest hog. It is one of few sites in the world for the Nigerian Chimpanzee, numbering a few thousand individuals. The baboons here have an unusual habit of dwelling in the parks rainforest ecosystem, add that to the lions, leopards, thousands of ungulates, red-river hog (West/Central African version of the bush-pig, an animal that is rufous orange in color), and species typical of West Africa's tropical rainforests, as well numerous mountainous wildlife, then it is understandable why the park has been recognized globally as an environmental/wildlife 'hotspot'. Gashaka Gumti's staggering biodiversity statistics is as a result of its multiple ecosystem, and rivals any of its kind anywhere in the world).

 

Waza National Park in Cameroun is amongst the best in West/Central Africa, and is home to some of West Africa's last viable populations of Ostrich, Korrigum, giraffe, and red-fronted gazell.... Lots of lions, elephants and all the expectant stuff).

 

We dont know when the governments and people of West Africa will begin to realize the importance of wildlife not only to future generations, but also as a contributor to national economy. Thankfully, some individuals, governments, and corporations are waking up the challenge. Though we still have a long way to go, before we can catch up with Southern Eastern Africa

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We dont know when the governments and people of West Africa will begin to realize the importance of wildlife not only to future generations, but also as a contributor to national economy. Thankfully, some individuals, governments, and corporations are waking up the challenge. Though we still have a long way to go, before we can catch up with Southern Eastern Africa

 

Thanks Patrick...most enlightening. But why is it taking so long?

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Thanks for joining the forum and providing us with such interesting and encouraging info.

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This is very interesting. I have often wondered how you would find an objective view of the remaining viable populations of wildlife in West Africa and I certainly didn't know that there were so many differences in species, but it would stand to reason.

I would love to learn more. Patrick, is there a website or organization which provides information on a regular basis regarding wildlife and how the Parks are being developed for tourism (if and when) and whether visitors can indeed see some of the animals now or whether it is a long term project.

There is so little information available and friends of ours who lived in several different West African countries never mentioned wildlife at all. :(

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Very refreshing indeed.

 

I still cant get my head around the logistics of a visit in such places. I second Sniktawk with questions as to facilities!!!

 

There is this feeling that the infrastructure in such countries is questionable, so charter flights will be a must. This and the difficulties that such countries give travelers at customs, is a turn off for me.

 

Such a vast continent Africa and I would love to venture further. So much to do so little time.

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This is very interesting. I have often wondered how you would find an objective view of the remaining viable populations of wildlife in West Africa and I certainly didn't know that there were so many differences in species, but it would stand to reason.

I would love to learn more. Patrick, is there a website or organization which provides information on a regular basis regarding wildlife and how the Parks are being developed for tourism (if and when) and whether visitors can indeed see some of the animals now or whether it is a long term project.

There is so little information available and friends of ours who lived in several different West African countries never mentioned wildlife at all. :P

 

 

Twaffle: Sorry for the late response...... My main focus is Nigeria.... I do beleive that there are wildlife websites for other West African wildlife areas, but I can suggest certain Nigeria based organizations that can provide further information. I do not remember the exact URLs off-head, but the following organizations do have websites (Which I am sure you will find if you 'google search' the relevant organization):

 

Nigerian Conservation Foundation (Lagos based organization specializing in the conservation of biodiversity through-out Nigeria).

 

Okomu National Park (One of Nigeria's seven national parks, this small rainforest park has a website, tourist facilities, and good wildlife, including a monkey endemic to Nigeria. Noteworthy fauna include, elephant, forest buffalo, and leopard).

 

Gashaka Gumti National Park (GGNP as it is popularly called has a website hosted by one of London's major universities, and which provides all details on this richly endowed wildife area. If well managed, Gashaka can rival Kruger, and amongst its most noteworthy species are: giant eland, western giraffe, wild-dog, giant forest hog, black and white colobus, lion, elephant, western buffalo, leopard, and an impressive population of over 2000 Nigerian Chimpanzees).

 

CERCOPAN (CERCOPAN is an organisation based in Calabar-Nigeria, and which specializes in primate conservation. The organisation is affiliated to Nigeria's Cross River National Park which is home to the country's largest area of primary rainforest. Cross River is home to one of the world's few populations of cross river gorillas, as well as numerous other primate species, chimps, forest buffoles, leopards, etc).

 

Yankari Initiative (Is a relatively new organisation, and has a website concerning its activities in Nigeria's best known wildlife area - the Yankari Game Reserve. Yankari is home to stable elephant populations, numbering in their hundreds, as well as lion, waterbuck, buffalo, etc)

 

Pendjari National Park (Is Benin's best known wildlife area, and has a website of its own. The park has some of the best ungulate populations in the entire Africa, especially roan antelopes).

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Very refreshing indeed.

 

I still cant get my head around the logistics of a visit in such places. I second Sniktawk with questions as to facilities!!!

 

There is this feeling that the infrastructure in such countries is questionable, so charter flights will be a must. This and the difficulties that such countries give travelers at customs, is a turn off for me.

 

Such a vast continent Africa and I would love to venture further. So much to do so little time.

 

 

Dik dik:

 

There are adequate logistics and visitor lodges in some of the places referenced.... Aside South Africa, Immigration formalities in most of West Africa should be comparable to what obtains in other regions of Africa..... The only 'area' that is somewhat of an issue in West Africa is the lack of adequate tour operators in the region.... Travel within the region will most likely have to be arranged and organized by the intending traveller.......

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Hi Patrick,

 

We knew about some of the areas you mentioned but not all, our knowledge only stems from our friendship with a vet who works for WCS, and the odd article in Africa Geographic. Who for instance would know that some of Africa's largest elephant herds are in Chad?

I think everyone is amazed when they find out that there is lots of wildlife in these areas, it is just not very well publicised.

Are there any facilities to visit these parks and tour operators who can organise trips, if you have any details please post them here.

 

 

Sniktawk:

 

There are adequate logistics and visitor lodges in some of the places referenced.... Aside South Africa, Immigration formalities in most of West Africa should be comparable to what obtains in other regions of Africa..... The only 'area' that is somewhat of an issue in West Africa is the lack of adequate tour operators in the region.... Travel within the region will most likely have to be arranged and organized by the intending traveller.......

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Posted (edited)

I would like to share with ST members the last news from Nigerian Protected Areas available on the web.

The main Wildlife organization on the field is WCS Nigeria actually working in three different ecosystems:

1. The Niger Delta to try to save what is still present, I have to admit nearly nothing as the area is the stronghold of Petrol Extraction in the country.

2. Highlands rainforests at the frontier with Cameroon, which is the main focus of the NGO in Nigeria. WCS is doing a great job to protect the last Cross River gorillas on the Nigerian side of the frontier, surviving within a fragmented landscapes surrounded by high human densities farms.

3. Soudanese savannas ecosistems in Northern Nigeria: Yankari and Kainji Lake protected areas being the largest ones, still supporting lions.

 

I would like to share with you the status of these two last ones.

 

News from Yankari are particularly bleak, it seems that almost all big carnivores have been wiped out by poachers and cattle herders, that are currently invading the park. Poachers gangs and even cattle herders do not hesitate to shoot on rangers, and poor fines are aplicated when poachers are arrested. Even worst is that the reserve is now managed by the Bauchi State , which has very little interest in preserving it. It seems that the presence of WCS made the poachers even more determined, as they have recently killed two rangers while patrolling in the park.

The only "good" news that could be extracted from Yankari reports (see links above) are that last sightings from rangers (from January to June) confirmed a slight increase of large mammals and lions (!!!), that now number 6 to 8 from a depressive number of 2 just a couple of years ago.

Reports and publications are available on WCS Nigeria on:

 

http://www.wcsnigeria.org/WildPlaces/YankariGameReserve.aspx

 

Lions status 2011, Aerial countings and 2013 Quatterly Progress Reports (January-March and April-June) are of particular interest.

 

Last lions surveys within Nigeria LCUs showed that lions are only present in Yankari and Kainji Lake , where lions are confined to Borgu Sector close to Benin, on the western side of the lake. Nigeria have most likely lost its lions in the three other LCUs as there are no records of lions from Gashaka Gumti National Park, the largest protected area of the country. Could they come back from Fero reserve on the Cameroon side of the frontier, where an estimated 30 lions still survive? I am personally quite pessimistic, and think Gashaka Gumti could easily follow the path of Falgore reserve that has been literally depleted of all its wildlife in the last decade.

 

Please have a look at the following publications, available on the WCS website:

"A survey on the status and distribution of the lion (Panthera leo) in Nigeria"

 

With less than 50 lions remaining in the country (with an estimated population of 30 in Kainji Lake Borgu Sector), lions are ont the point to be wipe out from the country.

 

The state of West African ecosistems is alarming, huge fundings from the European Union did not succeed to reverse the trend in other well known protected areas such as Niokolo-Koba in Senegal, Waza National Park in Cameroon Extrem North Region and Boubandjida-Benoué reserves from Northern Cameroon. W-Arly-Pendjari Complex seems to be the last hope for West African wildlife where populations have stabilized.

 

Does anyone has fresh news from the lesser known Mole & Digya NP (Ghana), Thai Forest & Comoé NPs (Ivory Coast), Nazinga Ranch (Burkina Fasso),la Boucle du Baoulé and Gourma elephant complex in Mali? I presume the last Sahelian Elephant population should be suffering from the war out there, I hope the new government of Mali will stabilize to region to ensure NGOs to come back and continue monitorings over there.

 

Western lions are just an indicator of these ecosistems as they are well known to be an umbrella specie, Lord Derby Elands population is still decreasing, Western Giraffes have been wiped out of all protected areas and a small population is fortunalety increasing in the Kouré region of Niger where human settlements are on the increase. In a nutshell it is all an ecosistem that seems doomed to dissapear in a former region of Africa that where known to support a thriving population of wildlife.

 

As the most important factor I have identified, threatening the last wild areas in West Africa and more generally on the globe is the explosing human demography, I wonder when recognized conservationists will tackle this issue and lobbie governments to set up demographic controls as a powerfull tool to preserve natural resources so necesary for our own survival.

 

I would like to thank you for your reactions, creative ideas would be higlhy appreciated to discuss about some possible solutions to curb this dramatic trend ...

Edited by jeremie
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Posted (edited)

Actually I had no idea about this thread. To say the truth I've just registered on ST after discovering the community a couple of weeks ago. I'll have a look to it right now.

Edited by jeremie

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Posted (edited)

Oups, I've actually read it a week ago, while it was only a discussion about Pendjari diversity. Good news from Mole, I am actually wondering how many west lions are still surviving. Assuming 50-70 for Niokolo-Koba, 70x3 for tha whole Arly-W-Pendjari Complex, 40 Nigeria, I think we get the total west lions population considering Cameroon lions are Central lions. Which gives an alarming 300-320 lions. No need to consider the potential survivers in Burkina ang Guinea, these populations might be so low that it should be worthless considering them in the long term.

 

I am actually wondering how Gir lions can get such high densities compared with West lions. In my own opinion, they live in similar conditions: tropical dry forest in Gir - Open forest savanna in Pendjari, little water availability. But in terms of biomass I still don't understand why Gir support a 40.000s chitals population without considering sambars, blackbucks, nilgais and chinkaras... while Pendjari supports so few large mamals. I would even say that Pendjari great mammals population should be higher than Gir, as it supports elephants, that simply cannot survive in the dry, tropical forest of West India (Rajasthan and Gujarat).

 

Any explanations?

Edited by jeremie

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Any explanations?

@@jeremie

 

First of all, welcome to Safaritalk.

 

I am just guessing here, since I have never visited neither Gir nor Pendjari.

 

Based on my experience (and leaving aside human induced factors), the ability of an area to support more or less herbivores vastly depend on the palatable quality of the grass. "Sweet grasses" support a much higher density of animals than "sour grasses".

 

Water is a factor, but less than quality of grass. For instance, miombo woodlands in southern Africa receive a decent amount of rain, but the quality of their grasses (except in clearings, normally known as "dambos") is rather poor, and thus they support a lower biomass than other, drier ecosystems in the subcontinent.

 

As far as I know, grass quality in the West Sudanian Savanna (to which Pendjari belongs) is similar - or even poorer - than the one in miombo woodlands (East Sudanian Savanna has more ecotones, thus it is richer).

 

It thus might be that the grass/soil combination in Gir is very productive compared to Pendjari.

 

But, as I said, it is just a guess, and I would leave the India experts to comment.

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Thank you very much Paolo. I've actually been to Gir (I've done some few safaris in Nepal and India and none in Africa).

 

I've observed that chitals and sambars are able to eat diverse kind of vegetation: grass during monsoon, and leaves from different species of trees during the dry season. Sudanian antilopes might suffer from food specifism.

There is also an interesting relation between black-faced langurs and chitals. Langurs are particularly active in banyans during the dry seasons, and let many green leaves falling down on the ground, for the pleasure of chitals.

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