Niokolo Koba National Park was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2007, following a dramatic decline of wildlife populations, severe management problems and the potential impacts of a proposed construction of a new dam on the Gambia River a few kilometers upstream of the park. The 2007 joint World Heritage Centre / IUCN monitoring mission proposed a number or urgent corrective measures to be taken. At the time of the mission, a public private partnership was under discussion with African Parks Foundation to support the management of the property and its rehabilitation.
On 23 February 2009, a report on the state of conservation of the property was submitted by the State Party, together with a copy of the 2007-2010 priority action plan developed in 2007.
The following progress in the implementation of the corrective measures is noted in the report:
a) Implement urgent steps to halt poaching
The State Party notes that 170 additional Park agents were recruited in December 2007 and currently, there are 17 functioning guard posts and an additional patrol vehicle was bought. Regular patrols are organised by the mobile anti-poaching brigades. The mobile poaching brigades carry out patrols for about ten consecutive days. During the dry season at least one mobile brigade is engaged in patrols at any time within the property.
In 2008, ground patrols were supported by three over-flights during a total of eight days. Patrols intercepted 19 poachers: five for wildlife and the remainder for illegal fishing, illegal wood harvesting and illegal grazing. The patrols were able to confiscate arms also. Those intercepted were either fined or imprisoned for up to five months. No additional information was provided on seizures and target species.
The State Party also mentions that an agreement was signed in January 2009 with the commander of the military zone in Tambacounda to organize large scale patrols over two to three days at least once every three months. A first joint patrol between the army and rangers was planned for March 2009.
The State Party reports that the increased patrols have resulted in more wildlife sightings in 50% of the property. However, no monitoring information was provided to illustrate these changes.
b) Provide urgent training to the newly-recruited staff
Since December 2007 one training exercise was carried out in October 2008 which focused on anti-poaching methods. No information was provided to indicate if all rangers have been trained in anti-poaching and monitoring.
c) Survey and demarcate the park boundary
A workshop was held in April 2008 on the finalization of the demarcation of the boundary of the Biosphere Reserve under the UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme. The State Party plans to use ground markers around the core zone of the biosphere reserve to indicate its boundary, and will implement this in 2009. The report also notes that 150 ha of agricultural encroachment has been observed.
d) Explore the possibility of creating boreholes outside the Park to minimize illegal movements of livestock and local population inside the Park in search of water
The State Party has met with pastoralists living around the property to discuss the problems of illegal grazing in the property. As a result, it had been agreed to allow limited access to the buffer zone for grazing and watering during the dry season, reducing the problems. However the State Party reports that limited progress was made in controlling transhumance through the property. A planned forum on transhumance was not implemented during 2008 due to lack of funding. The option of creating boreholes as suggested by the 2007 mission has been rejected as a result of concerns surrounding concentrating cattle at the boundary of the property.
e) Introduce a long-term moratorium on the hunting of Giant eland, and also a hunting quota system in buffer areas surrounding the Park based on reliable animal census statistics
The report confirms that as the Giant eland is a totally protected specie, there is a de facto moratorium in place. In addition, no hunting is allowed within the National Park.
Modify the Park ecological monitoring programme to focus on a limited number of indicators and benchmarks which can be measured in a cost effective manner
Wildlife monitoring currently focuses on elephants, Giant eland and chimpanzees. The State Party reports that there have been no sightings of elephants since an elephant research team was established in August 2007. Traces found through surveys suggest that a small group of elephants is still living in the property. Attempts at radio-tracking of Giant eland since 2007 have not been successful. However, efforts are continuing to collar four individuals to allow tracking of their location and improved protection. Planning for a sub-regional chimpanzee research programme began in November 2008 through project Wula Nafa with funding from the US Government. No activities have been described or begun yet.
f) Prioritise conservation of the property in national policy, planning and budgets and take proactive measures to solicit donor support for the management of the property
The report notes that the Minister of State secured a substantive increase in the budget for the protection of the property from CFA 58 million in 2008 to CFA 122 million in 2009. An additional budget of CFA 10 million payment for infrastructure improvements has also been made.
g) Develop Species Survival Plans for Giant eland, Elephant, Hartebeest, Chimpanzee and other threatened species
The State Party report does not provide information on this issue. However, the IUCN Species Survival Commission Antelope Task Force notes that the total numbers of the Western Giant eland probably do not exceed ca. 200 individuals, with most of the surviving animals in the property.
h) Enhance transboundary cooperation and measures to protect buffer zones and ecological corridors outside the Park
The State Party did not report any new initiatives to enhance transboundary cooperation on ecological corridors with Guinea since December 2007. Discussions are underway with UNDP on a programme to restore and manage corridors for migratory wildlife. In February 2009, a meeting was held in Mali to discuss opportunities for collaboration that would include the property.
i) Revise the 2000 management plan and start its implementation.
The State Party reports that it is seeking support from the IUCN office in Dakar to evaluate the 2000-2005 management plan and update it. It is hoped that this activity can be completed in 2009. IUCN notes that its West and Central Africa office is not aware of this request.
The State Party further notes that the support of local communities is necessary for the conservation of the property and therefore actions are needed to support local development. The State Party has organised community meetings to promote the collaboration and identify potential income-generating activities with local communities. However, no information was provided on any initiatives underway.
The State Party reports that the Integrated Ecosystem Management Project (PGIES) has supported a variety of monitoring, research, infrastructure and awareness-raising programmes.
As requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 32nd session (Quebec City, 2008), the State Party submitted a copy of the 3 year priority action plan it developed following the 2007 monitoring mission. The action plan foresees activities to rehabilitate surveillance infrastructure and purchase equipment, rehabilitate some of the habitats, valorise the park for the benefit of the local communities and implement research activities, with a total projected budget of 21,5 Million Euro over 3 years, of which 90 % is foreseen for infrastructure and equipment. No information is provided on the implementation status of the plan.
The State Party did not report on progress in addressing threats from illegal cutting of Borassus palms, uncontrolled use of fire, spread of invasive species and associated drying of marshes, planned construction of a dam on the Gambia river, or the planned trans-national Tambacounda highway. The report also provides no information on progress in developing a public private partnership agreement with the African Parks Foundation (APF). The World Heritage Centre and IUCN have been informed that the discussions with APF were unsuccessful but that discussions are underway with a Dubai based group. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN received reports about public demonstrations against privatisation of the property that took place in January and February 2009 and that were reported in local media. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the State Party provide an update on institutional management planned for the property and if any changes are proposed to include a privatization of the management of the property.
While the State Party report indicates that there is progress in addressing the main threat of poaching and in the implementation of the corrective measures, IUCN has received contradictory reports. According to these reports poaching is actually increasing in the property and
- There are very few patrols and these are only on the main trails within the property. Many ranger camps are said to be closed and there are very few sightings of wildlife. Staff training remains inadequate and the action plan is not being implemented.
- The levels of threat to the property seem not to have diminished and there seems to be no evidence of a recovery in large mammal populations.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are extremely concerned by these reports which seem to indicate continued erosion of the Outstanding Universal Value of Niokolo Koba National Park. Hence, they recommend that the Reinforced monitoring mechanism could appropriately be applied to the property to help to ensure that the utmost is done to support the actions that are now essential to it retaining long-term conservation value. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN also recommend that the State Party invites a mission to the property in 2010 to determine the extent to which the Outstanding Universal Value of the property is affected.