Of all natural World Heritage sites, those in West and Central Africa are in the most urgent need of support.
Eleven out of the 16 West and Central African sites are on the List of World Heritage in Danger. This is by far the largest concentration of Danger Listed sites globally, and includes Virunga National Park, Okapi Wildlife Reserve, Salonga National Park, Kahuzi-Biega National Park and Garamba National Park—all in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Some sites in the region are on the verge of losing the outstanding universal value that they were inscribed for.
Danger-listed Manovo-Gounda St Floris National Park in the Central African Republic was home to many endangered species including the black rhino which is now extinct. It is also a major ecological crossroads — a link between West African and Central/East African fauna.
A survey in 2010 found that this savannah site has been ravaged by poachers and overgrazing. There is a major security issue due to rebel groups operating in the park, and diamond mining and other illegal activities are transforming the ecosystem. Almost no management is in place and to make matters worse, oil companies are now taking an interest in the area.
“There is a small chance to save the essential features by implementing an emergency action plan in a small priority area. Maybe later will come the time for reintroducing species from nearby, but this will need major improvement in management conditions,” says Geoffroy Mauvais, Head of IUCN’s Pan Africa Protected Areas Programme.
Also on the Danger List is Comoé National Park in Ivory Coast. Major areas are occupied by cattle and crops, poaching is ongoing and management is poor. Civil war exacerbated these problems but the security situation is better now. IUCN has proposed an action plan for this site but funding and high level political commitment are needed to ensure it succeeds.
The biodiversity of Senegal’s Niokolo-Koba National Park has also been decimated. This site used to be home to many of West Africa’s lions, but only a few are left now. Elephants have been poached to very low and unsustainable numbers.
This year IUCN is recommending that the Dja Faunal Reserve in Cameroon be added to the danger list. The reserve is noted for its wide variety of primates which include the western lowland gorilla, red-capped mangabey, black and white colobus monkey and chimpanzee. Yet multiple threats face the site—mining, dam building, rubber plantations, poaching and poor management due to staff shortages, a lack of legal powers, and so on.
“Many sites need major investment and technical support over several decades, but as the security situation is often precarious and there is a significant problem with corruption, no one seems too keen to invest,” says Geoffroy.
“What’s needed first is a radical change in governance of most of the sites. We need to ensure that all partners (including local ones) are involved in decision making, and we have to eradicate corrupt practices and unprofessional management,” he adds.
In such a bleak report card, there are some glimmers of hope, Geoffroy explains. Tai National Park in Ivory Coast is faring better because of significant support from international partners such as GIZ, the German organisation for international development, over more than 15 years. Banc d’Arguin National Park in Mauritania is also doing well, thanks to long lasting support from FIBA (Fondation pour le Banc d’Arguin).
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