With the Niger National Park W included in the World Heritage List in 1996 and its transnational expansion in 2017 (Benin, Burkina Faso), the World Heritage includes one of the largest contiguous savannah areas in West Africa with vegetation types such as grassland, scrubland, wooded savannah and extensive gallery forests. The area is a retreat for animal species that are almost extinct or threatened in West Africa. The largest elephant population in West Africa and a large number of the mammals typical of the region such as the African manatee, cheetah, lion and leopard live here.
National park complex W – Arly – Pendjari: facts
|Official title:||National park complex W – Arly – Pendjari|
|Natural monument:||National Park W in Niger with 2200 km² and recognized since 1987 as an important wetland in the sense of the Ramsar Convention; Expansion of 1.5 million hectares through the protected areas Parc W in Benin and Burkina Faso, Arly in Burkina Faso and Pendjari in Benin|
|Country:||Niger, Burkina Faso and Benin|
|Location:||cross-border protected area in north Benin, south-east Burkina Faso and south-west Niger; Crossed by the Niger River in the east and the Pendjari, a tributary of the Volta, in the west|
|Appointment:||1996, extension 2017|
|Meaning:||largest contiguous area of terrestrial, semi-aquatic and aquatic savanna ecosystems in West Africa|
|Flora and fauna:||predominantly Sudanese forest savannah, but also non-evergreen and evergreen gallery forests with Borassus aethiopum and Cola laurifolia as well as river plains and floodplains on the Niger; Home to the largest elephant population in West Africa and shelter for the only viable lion population in the region; Refuge for a large part of the large mammal species typical of the region such as cheetah, leopard or African manatee|
A zoo without fences and borders
The murky water of the Niger flows sluggishly through the broad floodplains. Whole islands of yellow aquatic plants spread out in the floods. Colorfully dressed men ride the river in small boats, fish with their cast nets or transport goods from one village to another. To the southeast of Niamey, the meanders of the Niger describe a small “W” that is only a few kilometers long and gives the national park its name.
Among the bird species in one of the largest and most wildly protected areas in West Africa, there are partridge-like hen birds such as the monogamous francolin, guinea fowl, which got their name because of their pearl pattern in their plumage, and griffins like the martial eagle, the most powerful eagle in Africa. Big cats such as single roaming cheetahs can be found as well as roan antelopes that graze the ground plants, red deer-sized red deer-sized hartebeest, red deer-sized antelopes and their typical lyre-shaped horns.
The national park on the national territory of today’s Niger was established in 1954, after it had already been placed under protection as a game reserve and state forest a year earlier. The national park has also been a biosphere reserve since 1996 and extends between the Niger, Mékrou rivers on the border with Benin, Tapoa and their seasonal tributaries. Only in the south-west is it limited by the straight line between the two last-named rivers and the state border with Burkina Faso. The main entrance and the management of the park at La Tapoa can be reached from the capital Niamey via an approximately 150 km long slope. From here you drive through the park in off-road vehicles and are guided by local guides to the places where Africa’s wildlife is best seen.
Almost all the large mammal species in Africa that Europeans are familiar with from the zoo live here in the wild: some elephants, defensive horned buffalos such as the African buffalo and the red-forehead gazelles who love the open steppes, and Nile crocodiles that seem to be dozing in the rivers waiting for the carelessness of their prey, and sedate-looking hippos who are not squeamish with rivals. Baboons and vervet monkeys do exercise in the trees, and numerous birds from Europe come here as migratory birds to hibernate under the African sun.
Predators such as lions, servals and cheetahs ensure the biological balance. Because of these predators, it is also advisable to only drive through the national park in closed vehicles, even if you rarely see them. Anyone who thinks they will come across wild animals at every turn will be disappointed. You have to look for them during the day, as they retreat into the shade of the protective bushes when it is very hot. However, poachers often intervene in the animal population, killing elephants again and again for the ivory, so that there is only a remnant population of African elephants in the national park.
Another problem in the region is the slow expansion of the desert, the main cause of which is overgrazing and the destruction of the remaining forest savannas and gallery forests. It is still not recognized that an intact ecosystem of this size has a positive effect on the surrounding climate and that more is achieved through protective measures than just preserving the landscape itself and the fauna.
The protected areas added to the World Heritage Site in 2017 (Parc W in Benin and Burkina Faso, Arly in Burkina Faso and Pendjari in Benin) expand the original W National Park in Niger by 1.5 million hectares. The world heritage area is embedded in several larger biosphere reserves. The German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) has been supporting protection and sustainable use in the region since 2015.