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Community News

Hippopotami populations stabilize after community interventions at Wechiau Sanctuary, Ghana

Featured Wechiau Hippopotamus Wechiau Hippopotamus

A community-managed wildlife sanctuary in north-western Ghana has finally helped stabilize their hippopotami population after a response in 1998 to the serious decline in the region.

‘The decline to hippopotami was due to high levels of hunting, but the sanctuary has used revenue from ecotourism to deliver infrastructure investments for the residents of its seventeen member communities’, reported United Nations Development Program - Environment (UNDP) in their recent case study.

hippo3Situated in one of the poorer corners of Ghana, and on the border of Burkina Faso, Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary (WCHS) operates in a region where comparatively little land is under formal protection. In fact, ‘wildlife serves as a primary source of protein (for villagers). As a result hippopotami are generally in decline, and even protected areas are often devoid of animals’, said a WCHS representative.

The sanctuary was therefore, proposed in 1998 by the Paramount Chief of the Wechiau Traditional Area, his sub-chiefs, and other local opinion leaders to combat the decline in wildlife populations.

The sanctuary, a 34-km stretch of riverine forest, floodplain, and savannah woodland along the Black Volta River, was divided into two zones: the ‘core zone’ and the ‘development zone’.

The core zone, which includes the Black Volta River, its islands, and a 1-2 kilometre wide riparian belt, is protected by prohibitions on farming, bush-burning, hunting, the cutting of plants and trees, and vehicle access, as well as restrictions on fishing, oyster collection, livestock and the harvesting of shea nuts (Vitellaria paradoxa ) and locust beans (Parkia flicoidea).

‘The core zone is also home to at least 226 plant, 237 bird, 50 mammal, 32 reptile and 9amphibian species’, highlighted WCHS

hippoThe adjacent development zone extends 5-10 kilometres to the east of the core zone boundary, and consists of wooded savannah interspersed with human settlements and farmland. The UNDP Environment report has highlighted that there are 17 resident communities within the development zone, roughly 720 households, and 10,268 people, with the total number of children estimated at approximately 5,620.

The initial WCHS project focus was on developing the sanctuary as an ecotourism destination, and this continues to be its goal. In addition to this, the main area of conservation is to conserve the hippo population in the area. Actually, between 1995 and 1997, there were 11 recorded incidents of hippopotami being killed within the area and highlighted the need for such a project.

‘Since the founding of the sanctuary in 1998 though, there have been no recorded hippopotamus killings’, emphasised a representative from WCSH. In addition to this, ‘the cessation of poaching has helped to stabilize the size of the hippo population, with an average offourteen hippos counted in regular monitoring exercises since 2000’, stressed the UNDP Environment report.

Besides the hippo conservation focus, other gains have been made. By balancing ecological and social needs, the sanctuary has also delivered considerable conservation and socioeconomic benefits.

‘Poaching has been eliminated and the hippo population has stabilized within the sanctuary's core zone, while investments in schools, health facilities, solar lighting, and water infrastructure have improved the wellbeing of approximately 10,000 residents of the sanctuary's development zone. Since 2005, almost three thousand environmental education booklets have been printed and distributed at community meetings to raise awareness of conservation issues. Within the core zone, there was the introduction of motion-activated wildlife cameras in 2008’, emphasised WCHS.

The sanctuary has been self-sufficient since 2004, with visitor-generated income increasing every year. In the last year there have been over 1,800 visitors to the sanctuary. This generated approximately USD 7,458, which comfortably covered salary expenses of USD 3,061.

The project as been so successful that in 2009, Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary was designated as one of Ghana’s first community resource management areas (CREMAs). The initiative is implemented by the Ghana Wildlife Division of the Forestry Commission, and is a government-designated protected area scheme which recognizes and transfers authority to local people to manage their own parklands.

The Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary was used as model during the initial design of the CREMA designation. Since this legal category was created, a number of other community-run programs across the country have secured CREMA status.

To date, the WCHS model has been replicated at three sites in Ghana. In addition, the expertise of sanctuary management personnel has been requested in conjunction with the Nature Conservation Research Centre (NCRC) for development of a similar site in Liberia.

‘Through eco-tourism, substantial improvements in infrastructure, and income-diversification projects, the initiative has been able to conserve a population of around twenty hippos, one of only two remaining populations in Ghana’, concluded the UNDP Environment report.

Last modified onFriday, 23 October 2015 01:51
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