Working in one of the world's harshest environments to save some of the world's rarest wildlife in the world's largest desert is a challenge at the best of times, and one that the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) has undertaken since its launch in 2004. Now however, with wars, uprisings and the influence of Al Qaeda spreading across much of the Sahara and bordering areas, the challenge for the SCF has added dimensions.
When SCF first began its signature project in eastern Niger to establish the Termit and Tin Toumma National Nature Reserve and to protect some of the world's rarest species, like the addax, dama gazelle and desert cheetah, security was not an issue and one could work safely almost everywhere.
After a spate of kidnappings in Niger and Mali, however, and then the war in Libya and its aftermath, armed military escorts were deemed a sensible precaution when travelling in the desert and carrying out regular wildlife research, protection and monitoring work. Unfortunately, since the war in Mali began earlier this year, security has further deteriorated and the vast desert area we work in is now strictly forbidden to westerners, with access severely regulated for national staff.
In spite of all this, the project team has continued to work, liaise with the local communities, and monitor the exceptional wildlife to be found in the reserve. This is made largely possible thanks to the approach adopted by SCF based on training and capacity-building of the local staff. Since 2012, the local project team is composed entirely of skilled and knowledgeable Nigeriens.
However well-trained and motivated the team is, carrying out successful conservation projects in remote and potentially unsafe areas would not be possible without the support of the local communities More....