'W' National Park (11°54'-12°35'N, 2°04'-2°50'E) is a World Heritage Site that is some 150 kilometers (km) south-east of Niamey, on the bank of the River Niger and extending to the point where the borders of Niger, Burkina Faso and Benin meet, in Niamey Department.
Date and history of establishment
Established as a National Park by Decree on 4 August 1954; originally classified as a Faunal Reserve and State Forest on 25 June 1953 by Decree No. 4676. Recognized as an internationally important wetland site under the Ramsar Convention in 1987. In April 1996 the government of Niger officially notified the project to create a Biosphere Reserve in the W region of Niger, with the 'W' National Park as a core zone.
Inscribed on the World Heritage List as a natural property in 1996.
220,000 hectares (ha); contiguous to Tamou (75,600 ha) and Dosso (306,500 ha) buffer Faunal Reserves, and to 'W' National Parks in Burkina Faso (190,000 ha) and Benin (502,000 ha).
From 180 meters (m) to 338 m (Yeriyombou), with an average height of 250 m.
The Niger River constitutes the north east border of the Park. The Park takes it's name from the double bend of the Niger River between the points where two seasonal tributaries, the Tapoa (north-west) and the Mékrou (south-east), flow into it. The Park forms the extreme peneplain extension of the old massif of Atakora. The soils are generally shallow and infertile with a high iron content, particularly in the upland areas in the interior. Depressions and stream valleys tend to have deeper and more fertile soils while extensive rock outcroppings are found along the Niger and Mékrou rivers. The Park consists of a lateritic peneplain, with rock outcrops of quartz, schists and gneisses. The oldest rocks are of Precambrian age, and the park is cut from south-west to north-east by the Atakora quartzite chain.
The area is typically Sahelo-Sudanian, with summer monsoon rains. The temperature ranges from a maximum of 31.2° Celsius (C) to a minimum of 10.7°C during for the coldest month (January) and from a maximum of 44°C to a minimum of 26°C during for the warmest month (May). Rainfall, which is very unreliable, occurs on 30-50 days per year, averaging between 500 and 800 millimeters (mm).
The vegetation types, dominated by Sudanese wooded savanna, have been described by Koster. The park lies in the transition zone between Sudan and Guinean savannas. A total of 454 plant species have been described in 1983, although a more recent estimate indicates 500 plant species or more are present. Six principal habitat types are found, including: shrublands (established on lateritic and sandy soils), savanna woodlands and deciduous gallery forests (located along seasonal watercourses), semi-deciduous gallery forests (on transition with damp thalwegs and dry plateaus, evergreen gallery forests (established on deep soils), and flooded plains along the Niger River. The secondary forest, which occupies a low altitude zone and approximately 70% of the park, comprises a mixture of grassland and rather stunted savanna woodland with such species as Celtis integrifolia, Boscia senegalensis, Balanites aegyptiaca, Parkia biglobosa, Diospyros mespiliformis, Bauhinia reticulata, Adansonia digitata, Tamarindus indica, Terminalia avicennioides, Prosopis africana, Pterocarpus erinaceus, Piliostigma reticulatum, scrubland species such as Combretum spp., Guiera senegalensis, Acacia spp. and Lannea spp., and grasses such as Andropogon gayanus. Many of these species are also present in the gallery forests, which occupy much of the remaining 30% of the area, and which also support Anogeissus leiocarpus, Borassus aethiopum, Mitragyna inermis, Vitex chrysoclada, and hold Cola laurifolia and Kigelia aethiopum. Species of interest include the only two Orchid species recorded in Niger Eulophia cucculataa, E. guineensis, and the insectivorous plant Drosera indica, all of which are sensitive to grazing and trampling. The Park also contains the only significant remaining tracts of riparian forest in Niger, those outside the Park having been largely cut down or degraded. The wild flora includes herbaceous species such as millet Pennisetum sp., Digitaria sp., Euleusine sp., rice Oryza sp., and leguminous plants Vigna sp, representing important genetic resources for biological conservation and research.
The park contains typical northern Sudanese savanna fauna and the only remaining populations of elephant Loxodonta africana (T), buffalo Syncerus caffer and kob Kobus kob in Niger. Giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis and giant eland Tragelaphus derbianus (T) are not present. More than 70 diurnal mammals have been described, including a number of carnivores such as spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta, common jackal Canis aureus, serval Felis serval, caracal F. caracal, lion Panthera leo, cheetah Acinonyx jubatus (T), and wild dog Lycaon pictus (T), previously considered locally extinct. The fauna also includes Anubis baboon Papio anubis, patas monkey Erythrocebus patas, and ungulates such as warthog Phacochoerus aethiopicus, hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius, bushbuck Tragelphus scriptus, red-flanked duiker Cephalophus rufilatus, common duiker Sylvicapra grimmia, Defassa waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus, reedbuck Redunca redunca, roan antelope Hippotragus equinas, hartebeest Alcelaphus buselaphus, topi Damaliscus lunatus, oribi Ourebia ourebi, and red-fronted gazelle Gazella rufifrons. Approximately 350 bird species are found. Migratory aquatic birds are common between February and May. Guinea-fowl (Numididae), bustards (Otididae), hornbills (Bucerotidae) and francolins Francolinus sp. are found throughout the park, and raptors such as vultures (Accipitridae), fish eagle Haliaeetus vocifer, martial eagle Polemaetus bellicosus, and Gobar goshawk Melieraz gabar are also common. The waterbirds most frequently encountered include goose and duck (Anatidae), waders (or shorebirds), ibis (Threskiornithidae), stork (Ciconiidae), heron and egret (Ardeidae). Reptiles occurring in the river include Geochelone sulcta, Trionys triungis, Varanus niloticus, Python sebae, Python regius, Bitis arietus and Nile crocodile Crocodylus niloticus (V). Fishes are typical of the Niger River fauna. Species lists are given in Rép. Niger (1995).
The last census of large mammal populations took place in 1978. Increased hunting and grazing and the expansion of agriculture has caused big mammals to migrate into the Park from within Niger and from the Benin and Burkina Faso W National Park. A number of species have shown an increase in abundance during the last year, although no recent census has been conducted to confirm this.
The park has been occupied since the Neolithic period, contributing to the development of the current landscape. Wild plant species play a role in traditional land use and agriculture.
Local human population
The park is frequented by thousands of Fulani cattle farmers, during annual migrations. The interaction between nature and humans is evidenced by the role played by local trees such as Baobab Adansonia digitata, Karité Butyrospermum parkii, Tamarindus indica and herbaceous plants in traditional land use and agriculture.
Visitors and visitor facilities
The tourism season is open from December to May. Visitors need permission to enter the Park. Admission is free only for Niger nationals. The Park receives around 3,000 visitors per year. Infrastructure includes an information service situated at Tapoa, the Park headquarters, 700 km of trails and the Tapoa Hotel with 25 air conditioned rooms.
Scientific research and facilities
Surveys on bats, mammals, birds, and plants have been conducted. Students from the Institut Pratique de Développement Rural de Kolo have examined the following subjects: impact of border human population on the park, methods and strategies for fire prevention and water resources in the Park. No research program has been organized and most of research has been conducted by the U.S. Peace Corps. A research plan is under preparation.
The park includes ecosystems that have developed through interaction with man since the Neolithic times. The park hosts the largest populations of ungulates in West Africa, and wild plant species, important for conservation and genetic research, are found. The wetland area is of international importance for the conservation of birds, being recognized under the Ramsar Convention. The Park is contiguous to other protected areas in Burkina Faso and Niger, increasing the value of all the sites for the survival of species which need large areas for seasonal migrations.
In 1977, 12 waterholes were constructed to attract wildlife and 20 were constructed in 1984. Annual burning of grass in the months following rain has been successful in reducing rank grass, but in the long-term this depletes the desired perennial grasses, which are out-competed by shrubs. Late dry season fires would enhance perennial grasses which are the basic food of many indigenous large herbivores. Since 1992, efforts have been made to involve local populations in the conservation management. There has been development of fire management and park management plans, all carried out by US Peace Corps volunteers. A Management Plan is under preparation, financed under the Regional Project (European Development Fund) from 1995. The plan aims to ensure the integrity of the site, and the creation of a Biosphere Reserve, including both Tamou and Dosso Reserves, with W National ParK forming the core zone.
Poaching, illegal grazing and annual migrations of Fulani cattle, uncontrolled bush fires, fishing, and cultivation within the park occur. Grettenberger (1991) reported that poaching has affected significantly elephant and antelopes populations. According to the Niger République (1995), proposals for phosphate mining and damming of rivers are unlikely to be executed, due to the lack of environmental impact study. The same source mentions that poaching, illegal grazing and bush fires have been reduced significantly following active conservation management.
A total of twenty staff is charged with the management and surveillance of the park.
Annual budget during 1995 was US$10,000 (excluding salaries), from Government and NGOs. The Regional Project (Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger) funded by the European Development Fund and planned to start in 1995, is estimated at 20 million ECU. A joint project of US$429,000 for the park and Tapoa Reserve was planned for three years beginning in 1991, to be funded by Peace Corps/USAID. The project aimed to integrate the local population in the conservation of the Park, by conservation education and sustainable use of natural resources. The National Hunting Office (Office National de la Chasse, FAC) in France, funded in 1989 a US$40,000 project, for improving infrastructure, management and surveillance.
IUCN management category
- Category II (National Park)
- Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria: ii, iv
- Grettenberger, J.F. (1984). 'W' National Park in Niger. A case for urgent assistance, Oryx 18(4): 230-236.
- Grettenberger, J.F. (1991). A Note on Niger - Regional Rundown, Gnusletter 10: 13-14.
- Koster, S. (1977). The ecology of Parc National du 'W' du Niger, M.Sc. Thesis, Michigan State University.
- Koster, S. (1981). A survey of the vegetation and ungulate populations in Park W, Niger. MS thesis. Michigan State University, East Lansing. 134pp.
- Koster, S. & Grettenberger, J. (1983). A preliminary survey of birds in Park W Niger. Malimbus, 5: 62-72.
- Le Berre, M. & L. Messan (1995). The W region of Niger: assets and implications for sustainable development. Nature & Resources, 31(2): 18-31.
- MHE (1991). Plan de Conservation de l'Eléphant au Niger. Ministère de l'Hydraulique et de l'Environnement. Direction de la Faune, Pêche et Pisciculture. Niamey, Niger.
- Newby, J. (1986). Niger plans wildlife protection. WWF Monthly Report for July. WWF Project 1624.
- Newby, J. et al. (1981). Plan d'aménagement du Parc National du 'W' du Niger. Foréts et Faune, Niamey.
- Poche, R. (1973). Niger's threatened park 'W'. Oryx 12(2): 216-222 .
- Poche, R. (1975). The Bats of the National Park W Niger, Africa. Mammalia, 39(1): 39- 50.
- Poche, R. (1976a). A checklist of National Park W, Niger. Africa Mig. Field. 41(3): 113- 115.
- Poche, R. (1976b). Notes on the Primates in the Park National W Niger, West Africa. Mammalia 41(2): 187-198.
- Rép. Niger (1995). Convention du patrimoine mondial. Formulaire de proposition d'inscription: Parc National W du Niger. 15p + annexes.
- Rép. Niger (n.d). Parc National W du Niger. Fiche signalétique.
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