West African carnivores and elephants in the savannah

African elephant


Large fauna across West Africa have suffered huge declines in the last 40 years. The W-Arli-Pendjari conservation complex (WAP complex), which spans the borders of Burkina Faso, Niger and Benin, encompasses five protected areas, hunting concessions and community lands and represents the last relatively intact savannah system in the region. 
With the largest population of the critically endangered West African lion, the last population of cheetah in the region and over 60% of the remaining West African elephant population, this site is of critical importance for the conservation of several Sahelo-Sudanese mammalian species.
Despite this, the complex faces threats from:

  • Increasing incursions from pastoralist herders and their livestock
  • Illegal logging
  • Unsustainable levels of hunting for bushmeat
  • Poaching for ivory and large carnivore body parts

These issues are exacerbated by a lack of capacity for law enforcement, monitoring and management.

Why we are there

This project is a collaboration between ZSL and Panthera and focuses on supporting the Beninese agency CENAGREF in protecting the parks that represent the core of the Benin side of the WAP complex: Pendjari (2,700 square kilometres) and W (5,633 square kilometres), as well as the neighbouring hunting zones.

The Pendjari National Park and its surrounding buffer zone is estimated to be home to almost 1,000 elephants and is a crucial site for lions and cheetahs. Although W has lower densities of wildlife, it still represents an important area for elephants and other threatened species.

What is ZSL doing?

This project is working to address the poaching threat to elephants, big cats and other wildlife, as well as increase the capacity of park management to protect the Pendjari and W National Parks. ZSL is conducting a number of activities to achieve this, including:

  • Training park management teams and eco-guards in the use of SMART to improve surveillance, monitoring and protection coverage of the parks.
  • Providing technical support to implement Panthera’s ‘PoacherCams’ at the two sites. PoacherCams allow for real-time transfer of images, such as photos of a person or group of people illegally entering a protected area. These images are transferred to an online web server and subsequently sent to the e-mail inboxes of a designated recipient, such as the local law enforcement agency, enabling rapid responses to suspected cases of illegal activity.
  • Surveying the parks in partnership with the IUCN Cat Specialist Group to assess lion, leopard and cheetah populations using camera traps.
  • Surveying markets for wildlife products to determine the level of illegal trade in big cat products and other traded wildlife.

ZSL is also improving law enforcement, through:

  • Training and support to Niger’s Direction de la Faune de la Chasse, des Parcs et Réserves (DFC-PR) in basic law enforcement techniques.
  • Supporting and educating judiciary alongside partners, to strengthen the application of wildlife laws.
  • Facilitating the collection of information on seizures and arrests from the Nigerien customs and gendarmes and analysing the data to identify supply chains and estimate the scale of illegal wildlife trade.
  • Supporting effective wildlife patrols in W Niger through training in SMART, resources and logistical support to patrols and support to park infrastructure.
  • Supporting communities on the borders of Pendjari and W Parks with nature-based solutions to establish livelihood opportunities which reduce dependence on unsustainable use of natural resources.

Project information

Key Species

People involved

  • Audrey Ipavec (North, West and Central Africa Regional Co-ordinator RCWP, ZSL)
  • Sarah Durant (Theme leader, ZSL, Institute of Zoology)
  • Yekini Chabi N'diaye (WAP Field Manager)
  • Manon Gruner (WAP Programme Manager)
  • Grant Miller (Law Enforcement Advisor, ZSL)
  • Rebecca Sennett Day (Deputy Programme Manager for Africa, ZSL)
  • Eleanor Harvie (Programme Manager for Africa, ZSL)
  • Christian Plowman  (Technical Advisor, ZSL)
  • Phillipp Henschel (Lion Survey Co-ordinator, Panthera)
  • Raj Amin (Consultative support for SMART system, ZSL)
  • Nick Beale (Law Enforcement Specialist, Panthera)

Partners and Sponsors

  • MESU/DD Niger (Ministère de l’Environnement, de la Salubrité Urbaine et du Développement Durable), CENAGREF (Benin), Rangewide Conservation Programme for Cheetah and Wild Dog (RWCP), Panthera, DEFRA Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, IUCN Cat specialist group

Elephant conservation

Forest Elephant Conservation

Dja Conservation Complex

African elephant

Populations of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) in West Africa range across 13 countires, including: Benin, Burkina-Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

Historically they would have been found in high numbers across the region but sadly the elephants of West Africa were amongst the first on the continent to suffer heavy losses as a result of demand for ivory in the early colonial period. 

The main threats to the remaining elephant populations in this region are illegal poaching for ivory alongside habitat loss and fragmentation (caused by ongoing human population expansion and rapid land conversion) and associated conflict with people. The total population has been estimated at less than 8,000 individuals across the whole of West Africa (http://www.elephantdatabase.org/).


Elephant conservation in the WAP complex

African lioness, Pendjari

The West African lion (Panthera leo leo) population has been classified as a separate subpopulation, ranging over 5 countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal).

The main threats to this subpopulation include large-scale habitat conversion, prey base depletion through unsustainable hunting, and the retaliatory killing of lions due to perceived or real human-lion conflict.

This subpopulation is estimated at 404 individuals, with 90% of them persisting in the W-Arly-Pendjari conservation complex (WAP complex), Benin. 

Lion conservation in the WAP complex


Cheetah in Pendjari, Benin. Image (c) C.Pavey
Cheetah in Pendjari, Benin. Image (c) C. Pavey

The Northwest African cheetah (or Saharan cheetah), now largely confined to desert environments, is known to currently occur in four countries – Algeria, Niger, Benin and Burkina Faso – and may persist in North Mali, and West Libya.

In Benin, cheetahs can be found in small numbers in the Pendjari and W national parks, but genetic analysis are still required to strictly identify individuals belonging to the hecki subspecies in the WAP complex.

Like in other parts of Africa, the main threats to cheetah populations are habitat loss and fragmentation, trade and to a lesser extent human-wildlife conflict.

Little information is available on the Northwest African cheetah, but the total population continues to decline and represents less than 250 mature individuals.

cheetah conservation in the wap complex

African wild dogs in West Africa.

The West African wild dog survives only in Senegal and potentially in the W complex in Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger.

The principal threats to African wild dogs include habitat fragmentation, conflict with human activities, road kills, and infectious disease. The vulnerability of this species is also increased by the fact that it generally occurs at low densities.

The population of African Wild Dogs in West Africa is currently estimated at 70 adults (15 mature individuals) and continues to decline.

Wild dog conservation in the WAP complex