Friday, February 3, 2012

WEST AFRICA: Water Shortage Threatens Wildlife by Brahima Ouédraogo

Low rainfall is having disastrous effects on wildlife in W Regional Park, which stretches across Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger. / Nicolas Barbier/Wikicommons

The story of a pair of buffalo aggressively prowling the edges of a village in eastern Burkina Faso is a warning sign of severe water stress in the region which threatens humans and wild animals alike.

People in nearly half of Burkina Faso's administrative districts could face food shortages this year, and the the country's environment ministry has also warned of disastrous consequences for wildlife. Water shortages are likely to cause increased conflict between people and animals, as is already the case in the eastern Bogandé region, where villagers were astonished by the boldness of two desperate buffalo.

"The buffalo wounded a farmer, but then remained near the village of Dorongou," says Arzouma Tindano, who lives in the region. "We've never seen that. But the explanations from the wildlife officials – that the animals' presence is linked to a lack of water – has calmed everyone."

Urbain Bélemsobgo is the Director of Wildlife and Hunting in Burkina Faso. "This year, water stress is likely to result in shortages for large mammals who are most dependent on adequate water supplies," he says.

"Normally, one needs to find permanent water sources within a ten kilometre radius. In a park covering 235,000 hectares (in Burkina alone), presently, you can go 30 or 50 kilometres without finding a single water hole," says Pierre Kafando, the coordinator of Burkinabè portion of the W Regional Park, a 10,000 square kilometre area that stretches across Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger.

The park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is home to between 2,500 and 3,000 elephants, the largest concentration in West Africa, as well as up to 15,000 buffalo; there are also large numbers of roan antelope and big cats including leopards, lions and cheetahs. Some 450 bird species inhabit the transfrontier reserve, and it is also home to the highly endangered African wild dog.

The park's administration includes wildlife management groups, which bring together people living near the park's boundaries, the government, and operators with concessions for hunting in designated areas; according to Burkina Faso's Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development, the groups raise awareness of the importance of protecting wildlife among farmers, who also receive financial benefits from the park.

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