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AWF Launches First Heartland Program in West Africa

  • Monday, January 25, 2010

Expansion Marks the 10-Year Anniversary of the Heartland Program

Nairobi, Kenya -- Ten years after unveiling its Heartland Program, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has designated its first Heartland in West Africa, expanding to a region whose conservation landscapes have historically received less support than in other parts of Africa.

The Regional Parc W Heartland is a tri-national conservation landscape centered on the point where Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger meet. Named for the distinctive 'W" shape formed by a bend in the Niger River, the Regional Parc W and its buffer zones span approximately 20,000 square kilometers (2 million hectares) and help constitute the largest tract of protected savannah in West Africa. This vast landscape is home to West Africa's largest population of elephants; the region's only remaining viable population of giraffes; significant populations of large carnivores; and many other species of mammals and birds. The Regional Parc W is recognized both as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International and as Ramsar sites under the International Wetlands Convention.

With the new Heartland's launch, AWF expands its operating base to a new region of Africa. "Introduced a decade ago, the Heartland Program strategically supports African landscapes that host critical wildlife populations and builds their value as sources of environmental services and sustainable economic development," says AWF CEO Patrick Bergin.

AWF launched the Regional Parc W after undertaking an intense scoping period in which its experts identified various West African landscapes with globally and regionally important wildlife populations, and assessed them against AWF's Heartland criteria. The scoping process was carried out by an inter-disciplinary team and relied on the expertise of community specialists, government officials, ecologists, and natural resource economists. On the basis of that exercise, AWF selected the tri-national Regional Parc W as its leading, priority site in West Africa.

Although well diversified and vital ecologically, the Parc W landscape is under pressure from encroachment of agriculture and livestock, desertification, and household reliance on park resources, such as wood for fuel and grasslands for livestock grazing. "Most people living within or near the Regional Parc W Heartland are farmers and pastoralists who rely heavily on the natural resource base and live at a subsistence level," says Bergin. "Through its Heartland strategy, AWF will pursue programs that improve land use, build the region's capacity to manage the ecosystem and its parks, and invest in community-driven enterprises that will bring much-needed economic opportunity and enhanced well-being to this underserved region."

With generous funding from Lundin for Africa and other partners, AWF is identifying a full suite of conservation interventions that will build on investments made by country authorities, including through the European Union's recent ECOPAS program (Ecosystemes Protgs en Afrique Soudano-Sahlienne, or Protected Ecosystems in Sudano-Sahelian Africa). As part of its initial Heartland investment, AWF has donated equipment to Parc W/Niger; supported a giraffe census and agro-forestry project being carried out by a local NGO in Niger; and provided support to the implementation of Benin's national elephant management strategy.


Founded in 1961, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) is the leading conservation organization focused solely on the African continent. AWF's programs and conservation strategies are based on sound science and designed to protect both the wild lands and wildlife of Africa and ensure a more sustainable future for Africa's people. Since its inception AWF has protected endangered species and land, promoted partnerships with the private sector for ecotourism to benefit local African communities as a means to improve livelihoods, and trained hundreds of African nationals in conservation -- all to ensure the survival of Africa's unparalleled wildlife heritage. AWF is a non-profit organization headquartered in Kenya and is a registered 501(c)(3) in the United States. Visit www.awf.org.

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