The protection of one of West Africa’s most important ecosystems and potential tourist attractions was secured recently with a ground-breaking agreement between the government of Benin and non-profit organisation African Parks, writes Leon Louw
National Parks and conservation are not always top priority for developing West African countries. It is, however, extremely important to preserve this unique part of Africa. In a post Covid-19 world, tourism will be an important vehicle for African countries to kick start their economies and there are huge opportunities in countries like Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone, to name but a few.
However, to lure foreign tourists, a country needs natural attractions. Managing these will thus become more and more important for the sustainable development of the tourism sector. However, most African governments do not always have sufficient resources, additional capacity, or the necessary skills to protect and conserve its most important national parks and reserves. Therefore, a recent agreement between non-profit organisation African Parks and the Benin government is significant in this part of the world. African Parks partners with governments, local communities, and other stakeholders across Africa to rehabilitate and manage protected areas of national importance.
The deal signed between Benin and African Parks secures the existence and sustainable development of Benin’s spectacular W National Park. According to Peter Fearnhead, CEO of African Parks, the organisation has been working in partnership
with the government of Benin for the past three years to secure and revitalise Pendjari National Park. W National Park is contiguous with Pendjari National Park and one of the anchors of the critically important W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP) Complex. The long-term agreement was concluded during a virtual ceremony on Wednesday, June 25th.
The Benin Government has been visionary in putting the restoration of their globally significant protected areas, first Pendjari and then W, at the heart of a progressive national investment programme, “Revealing Benin”, leveraging conservation as a catalyst for sustainable development.
The Benin component of the W Biosphere Reserve is an 8 022km2 area connected to Pendjari in the north-west corner of the country. Combined, they form half of the WAP Complex, a 26 500km2 transboundary landscape straddling Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger; the largest intact ecosystem in West Africa. As a substantial part of the WAP Complex, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the parks are refuge to the only viable populations of West African lion, cheetah and Korrigum antelope, among the many other key species remaining in the region.
According to Fearnhead, the last few years have not been without challenges. “To address the impact of the recent escalation in regional insecurity, we improved law enforcement deployments, implemented a layered security system, and bolstered surveillance, communication and collaboration with local communities,” says Fearnhead.
“The Benin component of the WAP Complex is a critically important anchor ecosystem for the West African region, delivering essential ecosystem services, supporting livelihoods, and serving as a national tourism asset. We envision that through this partnership, with the involvement of CENAGREF, ANPT, local authorities and communities, W and Pendjari can serve as a source of hope for ecological recovery while engendering greater cooperation to boost security, stability and prosperity for not only northern Benin, but the entire region,” says Fearnhead.
W National Park is the 18th park to join African Parks’ management portfolio.