Comoé National Park was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2003 following the loss of control by the State Party over the property as a result of the political situation in Côte d’Ivoire in 2002 and fears that this would lead to a further degradation of its integrity and Outstanding Universal Value. Since the time of inscription on the World Heritage List, wildlife populations have been declining dramatically, mainly as a result of poaching. Since 2006, the security in the property has been improving and there has been some progress in implementing the corrective measures related to management structure and zoning system of the property.
On 2 February 2009, a report on the state of conservation of the property was submitted by the State Party. It presents a brief outline of progress in implementing certain corrective measures and the need for increased international support to address the remaining threats and recommendations of the World Heritage Committee such as the completion and implementation of the management plan.
The State Party also submitted a report on a rapid wildlife assessment (RWA) conducted in June 2008 by the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (wcf) with funding from the World Bank. During the assesment, several transects on foot and by air were conducted, with direct and indirect observations on wildlife species and on illegal human activities. While the dataset was not large enough to allow a population estimate of the different species, the results clearly indicate that animal populations have suffered a severe decline. Signs of illegal human activity were found across the entire property. At the same time, the RWA was able to confirm the presence of 29 different mammal species, indicating that, while populations are low, there is a potential for recovery. There was a notable absence of chimpanzee evidence which merits further research. It should be noted that communities outside of the property, to the west, have observed chimpanzees therefore it seems likely that they are present within the property, but perhaps in limited numbers.
The State Party report provides the following information on the progress in implementation of the corrective measures:
a) Establish an effective system of control and patrolling for the whole property
The State Party report confirms that poaching remains the major threat to the integrity of the property and that all wildlife species have seen a continuous decline since the time of inscription on the World Heritage List. This is confirmed by the rapid assessment, which notes that signs of poaching can be found throughout the property, but that poaching pressure is especially high along the Comoé River, which is used as an entry point for illegal activities. Other illegal and damaging activities documented during the RWA include wild honey collection, illegal fishing, subsistence agriculture, wood cutting and bush fires. A surveillance structure has been put in place fro the property, composed of 5 sector teams and a mobile unit. There are currently 45 staff for the property (up from 15 in 2007 and with a further increase to 65 planned by June 2009). The report notes that this structure will make it possible to implement a surveillance strategy based on targeted patrols and increased cooperation with the local communities through village surveillance committees. This strategy was already tested and implemented with success in the Taï National Park. However, it is unclear from the report if implementation of this strategy has yet commenced. No information is provided on on-going anti-poaching activities in the 2008-2009. The report further notes efforts to sensitise the local communities on the poaching problem, mainly by using a local radio station. The report also mentions that most of the Park infrastructure and equipment was destroyed or looted during the crisis but provides no information rehabilitation efforts.
b) Develop and initiate the implementation of a management plan
The report notes that the management plan for the property was not finalised in 2008 but that this is planned as part of a new World Bank funded project. No specific timeframe is provided for this.
c) Enlarging the activities of the management structure to encompass the entire property
According to the report, the deployment of Park staff has now been reestablished across the entire property, as part of a normalisation of the political situation in the area. The entire area is under Government control. All military forces have been withdrawn, with the army camp of Nassian dismantled and currently occupied by the national police and the mobile brigade of the Park.
With regard to the funding of the property, the State Party report notes that a new USD 8.8 million project has started to support the national protected area system, with funding from the World Bank (“Projet d’Appui à la Relance de la Conservation des Parcs et Réserves de Côte d’Ivoire”). However, it is unclear how much of this funding is earmarked for the property. IUCN has received reports that question whether significant progress has been made in raising funds for critical activities.
The State Party report also mentions that three mining exploration licences have been granted which cover parts of the property. So far, no exploration activities are reported to have started. No progress was reported on establishing an ecological corridor with Burkina Faso and Ghana.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN welcome the RWA which was carried out, and which provides a first insight in the impacts of the crisis on the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of the property. While this information can be useful for intitiating strategies for the recovery of the values of the property, it is clear that the present data set is too limited to draw firm conclusions on the conservation status of the property. A more comprehensive survey is needed to fully assess the state of conservation of the property. Such a survey should establish the baseline to monitor the recovery of the wildlife and to set the the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger. A Statement of Outstanding Universal Value should also be drafted and adopted.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are concerned that the data of the RWA show that the Outstanding Universal Valueof the property appears to have been seriously degraded. Urgent action is therefore needed to address the most serious threats, in particular poaching. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN strongly recommend that the State Party urgently makes every effort to transfer the knowledge and training gained at the Taï National Park to the Comoé National Park to maximise the effectiveness of its management. As the State Party has now regained control over the entire property, the conditions are in place to initiate the recovery process. However, it will be crucial to increase funding to the property to fully resume management activities and expedite the implementation of the corrective measures and other recommendations of the 2006 mission. It also seems clear that given the apparently very significant reductions in wildlife populations, it will take some time before the values and integrity of the property will be able to recover.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are concerned that no further progress was made in preparing the management plan for the property. This management plan will have to set out the strategy for a recovery of the property. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN encourage the State Party to engage with the local community and other stakeholders to finalise and implement this plan. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN also recommend that the State Party urgently focus on implementing corrective measures to halt threats to the property and establish ecological monitoring to allow the restoration of the values of the property and its integrity to be measured.
The Word Heritage Centre and IUCN are also concerned about the information in the State Party report that mining exploration licences covering the property have been attributed to several companies and reiterate their position that mining exploration and exploitation activities are not appropriate within a World Heritage property.