A Delaware-size patch of land in West Africa is making a comeback.
On January 31, the National Geographic Society announced it was partnering up with African Parks, the Wyss Foundation, and the Republic of Benin to revitalize West Africa's Pendjari National Park. The goal of the conservation initiative, in which $23.5 million will be distributed over several years, is to protect, restore, and rehabilitate the park's fragile landscape.
With this fund, the National Geographic Society will lead new scientific exploration in the park, as well as develop new monitoring technology and a large-scale conservation plan. The society will also create materials for educational and long-term financing purposes.
“The Pendjari National Park is an exceptional reserve, which was under threat because of poaching,” Benin President Patrice Talon says in a press release. “The international collaboration for this reserve is extraordinary, especially because it comes at a time when my government is committed to making tourism a lever for long-term development. It is all at once a matter of preservation of our environment and our natural resources, sustainable tourism and social impact.”
Pendjari National Park covers 1,853 square miles in West Africa, bridging Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger. It's the region's largest remaining ecosystem and the last refuge for vulnerable species like elephants and lions. Estimated populations of cheetahs, antelope, buffalo, hippos, and other animals also make up the park's inhabitants. (Read: "How Killing Elephants Finances Terror in Africa")
But the park is at risk. Its elephant population—which is the largest in West Africa—is threatened by poachers. Acting illegally, hunters shoot elephants and hack off their tusks to sell as luxury items in some parts of the world. The area is also hurt by excessive tree felling, and its resources are being eroded. (See: "Tracking the Illegal Tusk Trade")
"[It's] dying a slow death," José Pliya, director of Benin's National Agency for the Promotion of Heritage and Tourism Development, tells AFP. (Read: "100,000 Elephants Killed by Poachers in Just Three Years, Landmark Analysis Finds")
Park officials have already taken steps to revitalize Pendjari Park. Many elephants and lions have been outfitted with satellite tracking devices, which will help determine where some 60 new rangers should be deployed. There have also been plans made to reintroduce rhinoceroses and wild dogs to the area.
While Pendjari Park is planning to make an ambitious comeback, the president of Benin wants his country to benefit as well. Talon has announced plans to attract one million visitors to the country by 2021, as well as double the park's animal population and create 100,000 jobs in the next decade. (Read: "Why Some Countries Don't Want to Do More to Protect Elephants")