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The dangers of working in conservation - And how vital it is to carry on in times of danger

24/04/2013 08:50:57

The Arab spring has made life much more dangerous for wildlife and conservation workers across much of the Sahara.

The Sahara Conservation Fund continues its work across the Sahara despite the dangers

April 2013. Working in one of the world's harshest environments to save some of the world's rarest wildlife in the world's largest desert is a challenge at the best of times, and one that the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) has undertaken since its launch in 2004. Now however, with wars, uprisings and the influence of Al Qaeda spreading across much of the Sahara and bordering areas, the challenge for the SCF has added dimensions.

When SCF first began its signature project in eastern Niger to establish the Termit and Tin Toumma National Nature Reserve and to protect some of the world's rarest species, like the addax, dama gazelle and desert cheetah, security was not an issue and one could work safely almost everywhere.

After a spate of kidnappings in Niger and Mali, however, and then the war in Libya and its aftermath, armed military escorts were deemed a sensible precaution when travelling in the desert and carrying out regular wildlife research, protection and monitoring work. Unfortunately, since the war in Mali began earlier this year, security has further deteriorated and the vast desert area we work in is now strictly forbidden to westerners, with access severely regulated for national staff.

The Dama Gazelle is one of the rarest antelopes
on earth. This magnificent, critically endangered
species can now only be found in three or four
isolated places in Niger and Chad. Their overall
numbers probably amount to less than 300
animals. Together with its partners, SCF is
working to save this beautiful animal from
Please help us do this by donating to SCF.

Community work
In spite of all this, the project team has continued to work, liaise with the local communities, and monitor the exceptional wildlife to be found in the reserve. This is made largely possible thanks to the approach adopted by SCF based on training and capacity-building of the local staff. Since 2012, the local project team is composed entirely of skilled and knowledgeable Nigeriens.

However well-trained and motivated the team is, carrying out successful conservation projects in remote and potentially unsafe areas would not be possible without the support of the local communities. They have played a crucial role in helping maintain the continuity of project activities. Indeed, the community game guards recruited by the project with help from the local leaders have developed a network which is both useful for anti-poaching patrols and to collect information on the security situation in the area.

The trust between the local population and the project team is a key element in allowing critical conservation work to proceed. The relationship is based on the recognition that win-win solutions are required and that our sole interest is not wildlife but the development of the local community as well, with priorities set on education, health and water supply.

Army units
Another key factor is the excellent relationship established with the army units located in and around the reserve. Through its regular fieldwork, the project team is often the only contact between the military and their home town of Zinder, where they are normally based. Every visit is welcomed and information is exchanged about the security in the area and news shared about the soldiers' families back in town. The team's itinerary in carrying out its fieldwork is shared so should anything go wrong rescue is possible.

Insecurity and the threat of terrorism in the Sahara have become increasing concerns over the years and look likely to continue for a while to come. Nonetheless, we should not give up. Well - implemented conservation projects are a vital tool for improving wellbeing and stability in these vast arid lands, promoting wise practices and the sustainable use of the scarce natural resources that are of benefit to both local people and wildlife alike.

Dama gazelle - The world's largest and rarest gazelle - Courtesy of John Newby/SCF 


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