Wildlife of the West African Savannah: unfamiliar and under threat

The savannah of West Africa extends from the Atlantic coast eastwards across to Chad, bounded by the Sahel to the north, and merging into the forests of upper Guinea, the Cameroon highlands and Congo basin in the South. 

Historically this region was renowned for its wildlife and teemed with large fauna that is more typically associated with East and Southern Africa.  Significant populations of African elephant, West African giraffe, West African lion, North West African cheetah, African wild dog and ungulates were once found across this region. 

Today, the wildlife of West Africa is restricted to isolated pockets that face massive ongoing pressures leading to the threat of extinction. 

African elephant numbers are in the low thousands and the West African lion population, genetically closer to the Asian lion than lions in East and South Africa, now numbers less than 500. 

African wild dogs are thought to be confined to a few individuals in one protected area in Senegal. 

This meeting celebrated the amazing biodiversity of the savannah systems of West Africa, still relatively unknown in the anglophone world. It discussed the ecological history of the region, the threats being faced, and the work under way to conserve it.

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PDF icon Abstracts - Wildlife of the West African Savannah.pdf (103.88 KB) (103.88 KB)



  1. David Mallon, Chair, Co-Chair, IUCN/SSC Antelope Specialist Group

Overview of the status of large fauna in the West African savannah region and its ecological history
PDF icon David Mallon: Overview of West African Savannah large fauna (7.9 MB)

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David Mallon is an Associate Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Division of Biology and Conservation Ecology, has been Co-Chair of IUCN Antelope Specialist Group since 2004 and is a ZSL Conservation Fellow. He has been working in international conservation for over 25 years and was a member of a small team that prepared a detailed analysis of the status of the the fauna of West and Central Africa in 2014.


  1. Audrey Ipavec, ZSL Coordinator for the Range Wide Conservation Program for Cheetah and African Wild dogs, Northern, Western and Central Africa

​​The WAP complex, an example of trans-boundary conservation in an intact remnant of West African savannah
PDF icon Talk slides - Audrey Ipavec: WAP Complex (18.01 MB)

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Dr Audrey Ipavec is a wildlife ecologist who has been working in Southern and Western African savanna ecosystems since 1999. Resident in Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger, West Africa, from 2002 to 2009, she obtained a PhD studying elephant population distribution in the W Regional Park the she has been lecturing on ecology and human wildlife conflict until the end of 2013, when she joined the RWCP team (Range Wide Conservation Program for cheetah and African wild dogs) as the regional coordinator in Northern, Western and Central Africa, based in Benin.

  1. Susan Canney, University of Oxford and WILD Foundation

Mali’s remarkable “desert-adapted” elephants: how they have survived and how they can be conserved
PDF icon Talk slides - Susan Canney: Mali's remarkable desert-adapted elephants (8.95 MB)

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Susan Canney is the Director of the Mali Elephant Project, a joint initiative of the WILD Foundation and the International Conservation Fund of Canada. She had previously worked on a variety of nature conservation projects in Africa, Asia and Europe, and as a policy researcher at the Green College Centre for Environmental Policy & Understanding. She is a Research Associate of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford, a Trustee of Tusk Trust, a member of the African Elephant Specialist Group, and has co-authored a recently published book on "Conservation" for Cambridge University Press, which takes a global perspective to bring conservation to the heart of sustainability and environmental policy.

  • Chaired by Paul De Ornellas, Africa Programme Manager, ZSL 

Paul De Ornellas is the programme manager for Africa and Lead on Illegal Wildlife Trade at ZSL. Following an early career as a veterinary surgeon in the UK, and field researcher in Indonesia Paul joined ZSL in 2010. During his time at the society he has worked on projects across the Africa programme with an emphasis on West and Central Africa. He has a major interest in species conservation in particular those species adversely affected by trade including elephants, great apes, large carnivores and pangolins. In 2014 he co-organised United for Wildlife symposium on Illegal Wildlife Trade, hosted at ZSL and since then has played a major role developing the IWT theme at ZSL; supporting in situ wildlife protection and law enforcement in Africa and leading policy engagement at CITES for the society.


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Find out about our conservation work in the West African Savannah