126,700,000 hectares (1,267,000 sq. km.) (489,191 sq. mi.)
cheetah, West African giraffe, golden jackal, elephant, Addax antelope
Savanna and desert
Named after the Niger River, Niger is the largest nation in West Africa. The Sahara Desert covers more than 80 percent of its land. Even its non-desert portions are threatened by drought.
Niger’s hot and dry landlocked position has put it at a great disadvantage. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, with low literacy, lack of infrastructure, and little access to health care.
Commercially, Niger has a weak transportation system with few paved roads and no railways. The Niger River is also unnavigable because it is too shallow for boats the majority of the year. Niger’s economy is based on some of the world’s largest uranium deposits — making up as much as 70 percent of its exports — as well as livestock and crops, such as pearl millet and cassava.
Niger is home to some of the rarest desert species on earth, including the critically endangered addax antelope, of which there are fewer than 100 left in the wild. Despite surviving in terrain that receives less than 5 inches of annual rainfall, wildlife is now threatened due to habitat reduction from unsustainable development as well as continued poaching.
While Niger has a number of national parks and protected areas, the majority of its people don’t see the value that wildlife or flora bring to their nation. In fact, hunting has been legal since 1996, and local and foreign hunters often pick off everything from sheep to gazelles one by one. Without conservation education and poaching enforcement, some of these rare species will face extinction.
As competition over land and natural resources grows, pressure on protected areas and biodiversity grows. People in the Regional Parc W landscape earn their living through farming or cattle herding.
Unfortunately, there is limited available land due to rapid population growth and spreading cities, which results in competition between farmers, pastoralists, and wildlife. Governments tend to favor settled farmers over nomadic pastoralists, and see food security in maize and cassava rather than meat and milk.
Once ranging widely from Senegal to Cameroon, the West African giraffe today is limited to an isolated population in the southwestern corner of Niger. The herds roam in a “transitional zone” outside of Regional Parc W, meaning it is not formally protected. The herds share this land with many villages, and human-giraffe conflict is becoming a pressing issue.
Habitat is being cleared for crop cultivation and as natural resources and vegetation disappear giraffes are forced to search for other sources of food, often raiding farmer’s fields, which results in retaliatory killings. Since 2008, the subspecies was listed as endangered, and there are only an estimated 607 individuals remaining in the wild.
Our solutions to protecting Niger’s unique biodiversity:
Niger’s Dosso Partial Faunal Reserve is a mixed-use reserve along the border of the famous Regional Parc W. It protects a host of wildlife, including the last West African giraffe population. The reserve lacked proper management to ensure a healthy ecosystem. That’s where African Wildlife Foundation stepped in. Supported by the Millennium Challenge Corporation, AWF is strengthening the agriculture sector by improving access to water, infrastructure, and markets. AWF also conducted a rapid ecological assessment of the site to provide ongoing expert guidance regarding the management and the long-term environmental and social impacts of the large-scale irrigation and infrastructural development of the region.
In Regional Parc W, AWF established three tree nurseries in Burkina Faso and Niger, which provided thousands of seedlings to rehabilitate deforested habitat and to provide food for wildlife. AWF also worked with a local engineering firm to repair malfunctioning boreholes and pumping stations in Regional Parc W, while also drilling two entirely new boreholes in other parts of the park. The new water points were strategically placed in critical locations for elephant populations as well as in a previously dry riverbed.
Along the Niger River, AWF trained local women in sustainable horticulture practices. These small-scale income generating activities helped to improve living conditions for some of the most disadvantaged members of society who previously relied on harvesting natural resources from protected areas.
AWF is also helping to reverse desertification in the region by educating communities that with appropriate planning, agriculture and pastoralism need not be incompatible with conservation. Pastoralists’ livestock, for example, can provide much-needed fertilizer and land tilling for farmers — while farmer’s open lands can provide pastoralists with a place to temporarily park their herds en route to other pastures. Not only will this have the potential to reverse desertification in the region, but also allows the sustainable coexistence of livestock, agriculture, and wildlife.
These projects will greatly improve the quality of life of Nigerians, help lift many from poverty, improve economic opportunities, and ultimately provide communities with incentives to be involved in wildlife conservation.
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