Reversing the decline of threatened wildlife in the Aïr & Ténéré National Nature Reserve in Niger

Once widespread in the Sahelo-Saharan region of Africa, the dama gazelle (Nanger dama) is now one of the continent’s most threatened antelope, classified as Critically Endangered by the UICN Red List, with less than 200 animals surviving in the wild. These remaining individuals are split into four widely scattered and isolated populations in Niger and Chad, with no dispersal between these sites. Poaching, habitat degradation, and periodic drought affecting pastures are the main factors responsible for their decline.

The location of this project, the Aïr & Ténéré National Nature Reserve (ATNNR) in Niger – one of the largest protected areas in Africa with 7.7 million ha – hosts one of the last wild population of dama gazelles in the world and is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, episodes of rebellion in the region (1992 and 2008) have had a considerable impact on its wildlife and natural resources, and the reserve was placed on the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger in 1992. Since then, regular poaching and deforestation have had a dramatic negative impact on the integrity of the site. In recent years, traditional gold panning has become one of the greatest threats to wildlife, increasing disturbance, destroying key habitats, and polluting the soil. As a result, the dama gazelle population has found refuge on the Takolokouzet massif, as there is little or no human disturbance in this part of the reserve.

Aïr mountains Niger

Since 2017, SaharaConservation has been working to improve knowledge of this small dama population, using camera traps and conducting ecological monitoring surveys. The work done so far highlighted how this dama gazelle population has been able to adapt by changing its preferred habitat and lifestyle to survive. However, the latest surveys carried out by SaharaConservation pointed out that anthropic threats are increasing as evidence of poaching and tracks of motorbikes on the Takolokouzet massif were registered. The Nigerien authorities in charge of the reserve lack resources to ensure effective management of this area. It has then become urgent to reinforce the surveillance and maintain a strong collaboration with local communities to have any hope of saving the exceptional values still present on Mount Takolokouzet.

Dorcas Gazelle

Therefore, this project, through a multidimensional and innovative approach, including surveillance, design of an appropriate conservation strategy, and work with local communities, aims to improve the conservation of one of the last wild refuges for Saharan wildlife.

  1. Firstly, this project will focus on halting the main threats to wildlife by strengthening the capacity of the Management Unit of the reserve. The team of 10 rangers will be provided with training on navigation, communication and monitoring tools, as well as the necessary resources and equipment to efficiently organize 10-day patrolling missions, covering 500 km on and around the massif every month.
  2. Conjointly, updated information on wildlife and its habitat will be regularly collected to inform the surveillance effort and to improve our knowledge on the target species and their habitat. The deployment of 40 camera traps on the massif, conjointly with the work of four community guards will provide an update of the estimate trends in dama gazelle distribution, numbers and local ecology, and will support the decision-making process for the design of a conservation strategy.
  3. Finally, this project will directly work with local communities to help address pressing social issues as part of the search for equitable and lasting conservation outcomes. Healthcare is a major concern for people living in remote areas in Niger, many of whom are isolated and lack access to basic infrastructure and services. Itinerant health missions will be conducted and reach a minimum of 400 people. Conjointly, as part of an effort to improve local people livelihood, 15 households will directly benefit from support in goat farming as they will receive five goats as a source of income and subsistence. By improving their livelihood, it is hoped to reduce their dependence on the reserve resources and therefore encourage their participation to reach the project objectives.

As a result, this project, through its multi-sector approach and with the support of IUCN Save Our Species and the European Union, aims at having a long-lasting impact by improving the global context at different levels for the conservation of dama gazelles.

This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union through IUCN Save Our Species. Its contents are the sole responsibility of SaharaConservation and do not necessarily reflect the views of IUCN or the European Union.