Black Egret Egretta ardesiaca
Ganvié, Lower Ouémé basin, southern Benin
23 November 2010
Waterbirds caught by children, to be sold less than 1€/individual!
Sô-Ava, Lower Ouémé basin, southern Benin
19 June 2011
As in many countries facing the challenge of fast growing populations, Benin has serious conservation issues particularly from slash and burn farming which destroys natural habitats and causes uncontrolled erosion and loss of soil fertility, non-sustainable use of wood and illegal cutting for charcoal production which causes a threat to the forests, and from water and air pollution leading to serious public health issues.
Conservation in Benin is under the responsibility of the central government. The Ministry of Environment, Habitat and Urbanism is in charge of nature, wildlife, forests, environment, wastes, pollution issues … a huge never-ending task. The “Service des Eaux et Forêts” and the “Centre National de Gestion des Réserves de Faune” (CENAGREF) operate with the limited means at their disposal.
Benin has a vast network of protected areas, the most important being the two northern parks: Penjari National Parks (2,755 km2) and the National W Park of Benin (5,020 km2). These parks belong to the transboundary Complex WAP (W, Arli and Pendjari Parks) recognized as a ‘World Heritage Site of UNESCO’. An international agreement between the three countries involved (Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger) has protected fauna and flora since 2002. The challenge to maintain this huge area in its pristine state is enormous and the pressure on land is high.
In addition, there is a list of 45 state-owned Classified Forests, all classified under the French occupation (over 50 years ago!). Measures have been taken to protect these Classified Forests, but application is patchy, management plans are not properly applied, large parts of these forests are burnt by local population for farming or invaded by cattle herders, and often only small central parts remain under natural forest. Wari Maro forest has for instance been considerably reduced despite the fact that international co-operation projects for its protection had been initiated. Nowadays, dozens of farmers and poachers on motorbikes come in and out of the reserve all day long; some carrying guns and others chain-saws or axes. The sound of chain-saws is continuous. Large lorries come out full of logs and forest guards appear to be very selective in what they do, most of the “poachers” having the support of foresters, those arrested being only those who have not obtained (or paid for?) their permits from officials. Poaching of wood and animals in the reserve could be controlled with political willpower, but this is obviously lacking for the moment and the current level of poaching is extremely worrying.
Further south, the Lama Classified Forest (4,777 ha), with its central natural forest (1,900 ha) surrounded by teak plantations, is a stunning exception, being fairly well managed and protected, however poaching control and fund raising to support conservation expenses are still major concerns. The same is true for the forests of Niaouli (150 ha) and Pobè (150 ha), which are situated within national agriculture research stations (See ‘Hotspots’).
The only remaining coastal forest at Ahozon (Pahou Classified Forest) (c. 70 ha) also at risk to disappear completely, while the communal forest of Lokoli (c. 300 ha), the largest swamp forest in the country, is threatened by tree cutting for vegetable growth and palm wine production.
In addition to these officially protected forests, thousands of tiny forests (often < 1 ha, but sometimes up to 20-50 ha) are protected by traditional culture. Particularly in the south, these sacred forests, home of Voodoo cults, are the only remnants of natural vegetation. They may host interesting wildlife, however traditional restrictions strongly limit their access and you should never enter alone without asking the local people for permission.
Finally, some coastal sands, swamps, lakes and natural grassland are protected by the Ramsar international agreement but in the field, they enjoy no effective protection or management by national environment authorities.
NGOs' initiatives have not yet proved to be more efficient. Nature Tropicale ONG is a local conservation NGO which aims to help protect the nature, the wildlife and wild habitats of Benin and to encourage a greater awareness, appreciation and participation in all aspects of environment, biodiversity, its conservation and sustainable use, by the Beninese youth. Beyond that commendable mission, the seriousness and the quality with which actions are led by the NGO is unfortunately not yet adequate.
There is no single "right answer" to conservation and a wide range of approaches that recognise that conservation needs to have definable economic benefits if it is to be successful have to be supported. Much remains to be done in Benin however!
Neuenschwander et al. (2011) Nature Conservation in West Africa: Red List for Benin provides a much more detailed review of the current conservation status of the fauna and flora in Benin.
Benin has ratified several international conventions and agreements regarding environment and nature conservation including CITES, Bonn (migratory species), UNESCO World Heritage, Bern, Ramsar Humid Zones, Biodiversity Conservation, African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (Organisation of African Unity), Convention on Climatic Change, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection and Ship Pollution.