By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
It has a population of barely 11 million and an annual GDP of less than $25 billion a year, but when it comes to ecologic responsibility, the little West African republic of Benin, is a conservation powerhouse.
Benin, with a total area of less than an area of 115,000 square kilometers, boasts one of the last big wildlife refuges in the region, the Pendjari National Park, home to several thousand elephants and most of the few hundred remaining West African lions, as well as significant populations of cheetahs and hippos.
And, to Benin’s credit, instead of watching idly by as those severely endangered species are killed off by unscrupulous poachers and the untempered encroachment of human populations, the little country has decided to invest in its wildlife by hiring additional park rangers and bringing in international conservationists to help rehabilitate the 4,800-square-kilometer ecosystem.
Partnering with the nonprofit organization African Parks, Benin announced last May that it is launching a 10-year project to refurbish Pendjari to attract ecotourism and create direct sustainable job opportunities for more than 100 Beninese workers and indirect jobs for nearly 2,000 people.
To keep out poachers and militant guerrilla groups, Benin will invest nearly $20 million in constructing a 190-kilometer-long fence around the Pendjari Park and setting up a satellite communications network to track both animals and employees.
Benin is also partnering with the governments of neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso to ensure cross-border cooperation in the protection of the region’s wildlife, since Pendjari is part of a larger 30,000-square-kilometer savannah known as W-Arli-Pendjari (WAP) that extends into those countries.
With Africa’s large wild mammal populations shrinking at a rate of more than 25 percent over the last decade, and the continent’s elephant populations dwindling by more than 30 percent in the last seven years alone – primarily due to poaching for ivory – Benin’s noble efforts to protect its wildlife may not make much of a dent in stopping the senseless slaughter of the continent’s endangered fauna, but at least it is a start in the right direction.
And for that, Benin deserves kudos.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.