Hunting, an expanding human presence, and climatic and topographical changes have all drastically reduced West Africa’s populations of antelopes, birds, chimpanzees, hippopotamuses, lions, monkeys and other wildlife — more than 450 different species in all. Yet a network of national parks, reserves, and areas of carefully treated forests have saved many of Senegal’s free-living animals from extinction.
On a trip to the Gambia and Senegal in late December, we visited the Guembeul Fauna Reserve, near the Atlantic coast of northwest Senegal, and observed the progress of Dama gazelles and Scimitar-horned oryx — endangered desert antelopes living in protected Sahel habitat. Friends of Animals coordinated the reintroduction of eight oryxes to the arid northwestern section of Senegal in 1999, and today Senegal’s oryxes number 43. Our efforts to assist oryxes have also benefited the Dama gazelles.
The Senegal National Parks agency is restoring land degraded from cattle and goat grazing, and developing Ferlo National Park, to which all of the oryxes are expected to be released. This is a 1,500 square mile tract of open grasslands where oryxes once lived. The 20 or so oryxes living in a 1,500 acre fenced section of the Ferlo are the only Scimitar-horned oryxes living on the African Sahel.
Senegal’s Niokolo Koba National Park is roughly the size of Yellowstone. It's the largest national park in West Africa, and one of the continent’s most diverse. Hunting is prohibited in Niokolo Koba, but, as in the rest of Africa, poaching has intensified because of bush meat trafficking. Niokolo Koba National Park is a target for gangs of poachers from Senegal and the neighboring countries of Guinea, Mali and Mauritania. Poachers slaughter animals and dry their flesh over hot coals while in the park, then transport it to markets for sale. To discourage poaching, Friends of Animals has contributed motor vehicles, radios and field supplies to park rangers so that their presence in the park is bolstered. We met with Park officials to discuss the contribution of another vehicle to transport rangers, along with spare parts for other trucks.
While traveling with primatologist Janis Carter on the edge of Niokolo Koba en route to Ethiolo, we watched groups of vervet monkeys and baboons in the forest. Janis directs a chimpanzee project for Friends of Animals to survey their populations in Senegal, and map their migration patterns with the goal of resolving conflicts between humans and chimpanzees. Carter was named in Smithsonians’s November 2005 Special Anniversary Issue as one of 35 people “Who Made A Difference” in the magazine’s 35 years.
We visited the village of Ethiolo in the southeastern corner of Senegal to see the Bassari people actively using the well that Friends of Animals recently financed in an effort to reduce competition over water between villagers and approximately 20 chimpanzees who consider the region their dry season refuge area. The Bassari live in traditional stone and thatched hut dwellings, and their animist worldview is reflected in their respect for chimpanzees, and their interest in the champanzees' survival.
Janis Carter recently completed a nationwide survey of the distribution of chimpanzees in Senegal, aiming to help identify the problems between humans and chimpanzees, and the best locations for digging wells. In speaking about the next phase of the project, Carter says, “Our work acknowledges the interests that both humans and chimpanzees have in water, food, and other vital resources.”
Friends of Animals expresses our profound thanks to the Arcus Foundation for their 2006 grant of $50,000 to protect the remaining populations of chimpanzees in Senegal by constructing another well to allow chimpanzees water access, by monitoring well use, improving living conditions for chimpanzees and people, and developing educational materials with and for local people.