W National Park and the greater W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP) Complex are deeply important for the conservation of large African fauna in the region. More than 50 large mammal species are present, including significant populations of elephant, buffalo, a dozen antelope species, hippo, spotted and striped hyaena, leopard, as well as small carnivores. Over 360 bird species have been recorded, as well as 115 fish and 150 reptile species.
The last viable populations of several species are found in the WAP Complex, including the north-west African cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus ssp. hecki), a critically endangered subspecies occurring in small numbers. Ninety percent of the West African lion subpopulation also occurs here as well as several rare antelope species such as the korrigum (Damaliscus korrigum).
In 2019, a Priority Intervention Plan was initiated between the Benin Government, West African Savannah Foundation (FSOA), and African Parks, aiming to improve conservation law enforcement, rehabilitate existing infrastructure, and strengthen collaboration with local communities. The plan was updated in 2022 to align the security strategy with the increased threat levels, ensure operations across the park, strengthen community development, and improve coordination with the Benin Government.
The conservation programme planned for 2022 was heavily revised due to the dire security conditions, and for the remainder of the year, monitoring focused on key collared species (elephant, lion and hartebeest).
Threats to the park and its wildlife include competition with wildlife for resources, and habitat destruction from overgrazing, illegal hunting and fishing. A framework was developed to consult with local leaders in the area to mitigate these, along with building and training of ranger teams.
Human-wildlife conflict (HWC) victims are compensated, and human-wildlife management and mitigation programmes have been developed, including the construction of elephant translocation crates to remove habitually problematic individuals from community areas.
In February 2022, militant activity spilled into the park with devastating consequences. Our immediate response was to ensure the safety of all park staff. In addition, we pulled our operations back from areas under threat, away from the volatile border areas in the north. All roads coming in and out of the park were monitored, and our rangers received specialised training in identifying improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The Benin Government, ensured we had the support of the national army which was deployed along the border to reduce the threat of militant action infiltrating W national park. Ranger teams have been increased and, through a series of training courses, technical support, and a fully engaged park leadership, the morale and confidence of the park teams has improved. We also maintain close engagement with local communities who play a vital role in contributing to efforts in creating security within their regions. Positive relationships are being built between the park and surrounding communities through ongoing communication and awareness raising, as well as continued support for services, education and socio-economic opportunities.
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