The political instability and civil conflict, as a result of the Touareg uprising in the early nineties, has prevented effective management presence and facilitated increased poaching by armed nationals and foreigners. As a result of impacts on its Outstanding Universal Value and integrity, the property was included on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1992. At the time, poaching by military personnel was identifed as the primary threat to the biodiversity values of the property. Other threats included poisoning of wildlife and destruction of trees for fodder and fuel. An IUCN reactive monitoring mission visited the property in 2005 and confirmed continued threats from poaching. The mission also noted that soil erosion caused by loss of vegetation cover was threatening the fragile ecosystem as a result of livestock pressure, excessive wood collection and unsustainable agricultural practices. In addition, the mission identified critically low populations of threatened wildlife species including Addax, Dama Gazelle and Red-necked Ostrich. In 2006, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)/ Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded project “Co-management of Natural Resources in the Aïr and Ténéré Natural Reserves and adjacent areas” (COGERAT) started to address the pressures on the natural resources. Unfortunately, since 2007, renewed fighting in the north of Niger is once again causing political instability in the region where the property is located. The COGERAT project is continuing despite on-going security problems and has adapted its implementation strategy by giving more responsibility for project activities directly to the local communities.
On 2 March 2009, a report on the state of conservation of the property was submitted by the State Party to the World Heritage Centre, which notes the following progress in implementing certain corrective measures and the need for increased international support:
a) Re-establish physical presence of the management authority in Iférouane and provide adequate resources to allow better control of natural resource use within the property
With a gradual return of security, the conservation team of the property was able to return to its base in Iférouane and is conducting daily activities in the property including limited surveillance. They have also been equipped with an all terrain vehicle, communication equipment and navigation tools. It is not clear from the report what part of the Reserve is covered by these surveillance activities. In the framework of COGERAT, four project units have been established in the municipalities of Gougaram, Iférouane, Tabelot and Timia.
b) Establish Land Commissions (Commissions foncières) in the four municipalities and clarify respective land-use and resource access rights for local residents
Two land commissions have been established at the regional level in Tchirozéine and Bilma and a first commission has been established at the municipality level in Tabelot. Members of this first village commission were trained in i) evolution of Land Policy in Niger, ii) legal framework and relevant legal codes, iii) implementation of the Rural Code and role of land commissions and stock management, iv) natural resource management and local stakeholder perceptions, and v) the principles and approaches of COGERAT project implementation and administration. It is not clear from the report what has been the impact so far of the commissions that were established in clarifying land use and access rights.
c) Significantly improve monitoring and surveillance of the property in order to address poaching and illegal natural resource extraction
The State Party has begun building surveillance capacity in the municipalities of Timia and Tabelot. Eleven community brigades are involved in surveillance in the property to support the conservation team and COGERAT units to combat poaching and illegal wood harvesting. To support these surveillance activities an action plan for the different municipalities for sustainable resource management of the property was developped and 20 environmental co-management committees and 4 local co-management bodies were established in the Timia municipality. No information is provided on the impacts of these efforts to curb illegal resource use.
An ecological and socio-economic monitoring network is being established using observation sites where climate, environmental and socio-economic information is being collected. No information was provided on the data that were collected so far. The COGERAT project is also conducting research on local knowledge regarding changes in the property.
d) Immediately halt all commercial collection of timber and thatch from the property
COGERAT has conducted studies on wood and thatch use. The research has identified zones of harvesting, harvesting methods used, users and the flow of the resource. The results of these studies are being used to develop an action plan for management of thatch and wood resources. The results have also been used on a regional level to increase stakeholder awareness on the need for conservation of the property’s ecosystem. The State Party reports that alternative technologies to adress the excessive wood and thatch collection will be popularized at household level during the coming years.
e) Initiate soil and vegetation stabilization actions to control soil erosion, and measures to reduce destabilization of soils by motorized traffic
The COGERAT project aims to restore 55,000 ha of degraded habitat within the property. A restoration action plan for degraded land has been developed and is now being implemented. The achievements so far include the following results: restoration and seeding of 406 ha of degraded lands; stabilization of 30 ha of moving dunes; protection of 75 ha of naturally regenerated areas; construction of 3 dikes, protecting 520 m of banks of seasonal streams (koris) to prevent their undercutting and collapse; construction of infiltration areas to support groundwater restoration establishment of 40 ha of plantations; development of 2000 m of hedges as demonstration area and biological protection of 1500 m of koris banks. The report notes that these restoration activities are being intensified this year.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN welcome the efforts of the State Party to start implementing the corrective measures. Unfortunately, the report provides no clear information on the current security situation in the property and the impacts on the conservation activities. The report also provides little information on the impacts of the efforts to implement the corrective measures on the state of conservation of the property, in particular when comparing them to the scale of the property. The World Heritage and IUCN note that the ecological restoration of degraded lands so far only covers a small percentage of the targetted 55000 ha, which in itself is small compared to the size of the property (7.7 Million ha). More support will therefore be needed to accomplish this task and to achieve this the international community needs to be encouraged to expand its support for the full implementation of these corrective measures.
The World Heritage and IUCN further note that the State Party report mentions the development of a number of strategies for the recovery of the property (action plan for sustainable resource management of the property, restoration action plan for degraded land), as well as studies on wood and thatch use and recommends that the State Party provides copies to the World Heritage Centre for information.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN note that no additional information was provided on the status of the biodiversity of the property. Data provided in the 2008 State Party report indicated a serious decline in the populations of critical wildlife species. According to the IUCN Redlist of threatened species review in 2008, key species in the property continue to decline or be found in very low levels. The critically endangered Addax is limited to small isolated groups based on sporadic reports from the field. The 2008 State Party Report concluded that Addax was extinct in the property. IUCN encourages the State Party to clarify the status of this species and to discuss the feasibility of establishing an Addax recovery plan with IUCN’s Species Survival Task Force and the Antelope Specialist Group in particular. IUCN also notes that the critically endangered Dama Gazelle may also still be present in the property. The wild population is now around 500 individuals globally.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN therefore reiterate their recommendation that a comprehensive wildlife survey be undertaken to establish the presence and absence of key species and the need for specific wildlife restoration and encourages the State Party to discuss the results with IUCN species specialists. Such a study would be a basis for defining the Desired state of conservation for the removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger.
IUCN also notes that the UNDP/GEF project “Integrating the Sustainable Management of Faunal Corridors into Niger’s Protected Area System” was approved in November 2008 and encourages the State Party to provide information on the activities of this project that are relevant for the conservation of the property.