From 21 to 27 January 2007, a joint UNESCO/IUCN monitoring mission visited the property, as requested by the Committee at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006). The State Party did not submit a further report but accompanied and made available all necessary information and documents to the mission team.
The mission reviewed the following threats impacting the state of conservation of the property:
a) Poaching and impact on wildlife populations
The mission noted that the most significant threat to the OUV of the property is commercial poaching for the bushmeat trade. The mission reviewed the results of a detailed census of wildlife populations, carried out by the African Parks Foundation (APF) in 2006. The census recorded poaching throughout the property and revealed a dramatic decline of key species from 1990 to 2006. Populations of hartebeest, buffalo, kob, waterbuck and roan had all declined by more than 90% compared to a population census of 1990/91. Elephants, which at the time of inscription of the property on the World Heritage List were estimated to number in the hundreds, have declined by 66% from 30 to a maximum of 10 individuals. The population of Giant Eland, of which the park harbours the only remaining viable population for the western race, seems to be stable and estimated around 171 individuals, although this figure might not be reliable as it is based on a single sighting of a herd of 67 animals.
b) Illegal logging of Borassus palm and other trees
The Borassus palm is a highly valued tree, providing durable timber, palm wine and products from its fruit and leaf fibres. The tree is harvested extensively in the park, impacting one of the principle habitats. Recovery will be problematic, as its regeneration depends on elephants, which are on the verge of extinction.
c) Grazing by domestic animals
During the census, 6,000 domestic animals (cattle, sheep and goats) were counted, outnumbering the 2,115 large and medium sized wild ungulates. Grazing by domestic animals together with the presence and impact of the herders poses a significant threat to the integrity of the property.
d) Habitat Degradation
Habitat degradation is driven mainly by the use of fire by poachers and pastoralists leading to degradation of forest areas. The seasonally flooded grasslands, which provide a source of water in the dry season, are at risk due to bush encroachment as numbers of large mammal populations are insufficient to prevent woody growth. Agricultural encroachment remains limited but can be observed in some areas along the periphery of the park where the boundary has not been demarcated.
e) Dam construction
The proposed dam on the Gambia River at Mako, a few kilometres upstream from the property, threatens the seasonally flooded grasslands needed to sustain wildlife during the dry season. The dam would also affect the seasonal dynamics of wildlife distribution due to the river becoming impassable as a result of the constant flow from the Dam.
f) Road construction
Two road developments are impacting the park. The Tambacounda to Kedougou road, which was upgraded in the mid-1990s, bisects the property creating a barrier to wildlife and easy access to poachers. A proposed alternative route north of the park, which had been recommended by the 15th session of the Bureau in 1991, was unfortunately not realized.
At its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006), the Committee also requested information on a second proposed road project linking Medina Gounas in Senegal with Koundara in Guinea. The mission was informed of the EIA which was undertaken and the route chosen which takes the road away from the boundary of the park. The mission therefore considered that this road which is currently under construction no longer is a major threat to the park.
The mission also reviewed the management of the property. It noted that the high standards of management of the property, which existed at the time of its inscription on the World Heritage List, had not been sustained, despite the best efforts of the Department of National Parks and recent support from the donor community. The park’s location close to international borders, regional insecurity and the proliferation of automatic weapons during the 80s and 90s resulted in unrelenting poaching pressure at a time when park budgets and staffing levels were being cut. Furthermore, the park has not yet gained the trust and support of local communities, many of whom were evicted from park lands when it was established, and still feel alienated. For many years there was a progressive deterioration in park infrastructure, withdrawal of staff from critical security posts, and general deterioration in management capacity.
A significant recent development has been the invitation by the State Party to the Dutch-based NGO the African Parks Foundation (APF) to conclude a partnership arrangement for conservation of the property. Based on an extensive needs assessment, APF submitted a proposal for the establishment of a new autonomous foundation to oversee management of the park under a 25-year contract.
Discussions and identification of funding sources are on-going, and have already led to the development of a three- year emergency rehabilitation plan. However, additional and adequate sources of funding remain to be found.
In the mean time, the Department of National Parks has made significant changes in its management operations at the park level. Staffing levels have been doubled over the past three years, staff has been re-deployed to the field, salaries and operational budgets have been substantially increased; and several new vehicles deployed to help with anti-poaching patrols.
The mission concluded that the integrity of the property had suffered a dramatic decline since its inscription on the World Heritage List. Unless remedial actions are taken urgently, further degradation would lead to an irreversible loss of the values for which the property was inscribed. The mission therefore concluded that the property be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The mission further noted that any further extinctions within the property, as well as the construction of the Mako dam without adequate provisions to mitigate its impact on the flooding regime and the hydrological cycles in the park, would result in the loss of its Outstanding Universal Value and could lead to deletion of the property from the World Heritage List.
The mission further proposed a series of urgent corrective measures to secure the property, including urgent actions to be implemented in the next 12 months and the development and implementation of a 3 year emergency action plan. These are included in the draft Decision. The mission considers that if these actions are implemented, recovery of the values could be well under way within 5 years and hence, proposed the following indicators of recovery:
(i) a 90% reduction in the number of signs of human activity encountered within the park;
(ii) an extension of the area in which signs of large ungulates are encountered, from the present 34% to 85% of the area of the park;
(iii) an increase in counts of all species of larger ungulate for three consecutive years; and
(iv) a reduction in animal flight distances along selected sections of road in the park interior.
The State Party in a letter dated 27 March 2007 confirmed its agreement with the inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
In addition, IUCN and the World Heritage Centre have learnt from international media reports in February 2007 that the State Party has signed a mining agreement with Arcelor Mittal to operate in the Faleme region in which the property is located. The State Party is requested to provide information on its plans relating to mining in the region, in particular the location of any prospecting, exploration or exploitation surrounding the property.