Skip to main content

Engaging communities to prevent wildlife crime in the 'W' Transboundary Biosphere Reserve

Current initiative


Female leopard in the tree

"Female Leopard" by Ch&Al is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The W Transboundary Biosphere Reserve is a key part of the W-Arly-Pendjari landscape. The area is a refuge for wildlife species that have disappeared elsewhere in West Africa or are highly threatened. It is home to the largest population of elephants in West Africa and most of the large mammals typical of the region, including the cheetah, lion, and leopard. Consequently, the area is a magnet for poachers and others engaged in IWT. This initiative is working to address the threat of poaching to these species (and other wildlife), as well as increasing the capacity of park management to protect the National Parks. Still in its early stages, ZSL and partners are working with communities to improve stewardship and the conservation of these iconic species using a variety of strategies, including, strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour, increasing incentives for wildlife stewardship, and increasing livelihoods that are not related to wildlife.



    The W Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (WTBR): part of the W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP) landscape (covering ~35,000km² across Bénin, Burkina Faso and Niger. Main project base is Perelegou ranger station (latitude: 12.14437; longitude: 2.31297 in decimal degrees) located within W Niger National Park, near the border with W Burkina Faso National Park. 

    The W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP) landscape – a network of protected areas and hunting zones in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger - is the last stronghold for many West African savannah species and is globally recognised as being critically important for large carnivore conservation. Almost all of the remaining West African lions are found here, it is the only site in which the North West African cheetahs are found and its home to a population of leopards. The large carnivores and other wildlife of the WAP face an uncertain future as illegal killing of big cats and their prey, weak enforcement of laws relating to wildlife, illegal encroachment into parks and a lack of community engagement, all of which is compounded by a lack of capacity to address it, threaten one of most important sites for African conservation.

    Field activities related to park protection and species biomonitoring will be conducted within W Niger and W Burkina Faso National Parks; and villages from 8 communes located in Benin (i.e. Kerou, Banikoara, Kandi, Malanville, and Karimana) and Niger (i.e. Tamou, Kirtachi, and Falmey) will be directly engaged in this project.

    The poaching and wildlife trade problem

    Species affected African Elephant Loxodonta africana , Leopard Panthera pardus , Lion Panthera leo , North African Cheetah Acinonyx jubatus hecki

    Products in trade

    Big cats - body parts (skins and bones) and derivatives (e.g. lion fat) for local and regional markets. 

    Elephants - ivory.

    Overview of the problem

    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 their conservation: all are severely affected by IWT in the area, and killing for illicit trade is their main (but not only) threat (for ivory and large carnivore body parts). 

    Lack of capacity for law enforcement, monitoring and management exacerbate the situation.

    Poaching is mainly undertaken by members of the local communities, which is exacerbated by conflict between local communities and conservation authorities.

    CITES Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme highlighted Pendjari as a key site for concern in Africa. Benin is the key trafficking hub linked to the WAP, and in 2017 ZSL market surveys found products from big cats, pangolins and elephants openly for sale, with traders offering to source larger amounts. Links to international traffickers were also identified. 

    IWT is a direct threat to tourism-related livelihoods with around 300 families depending on employment at lodges/hotels, hunting concessions and as guides. Many more benefit indirectly from tourists who visit the region. As poaching has escalated, visitors have decreased by almost 40% to <5,000 in 2015.

    The anti-IWT initiative

    This initiative is a combination of the following 2 projects: 

    1. Combatting illegal wildlife trade in the W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP) landscape [IWT Challenge Fund] 

    2. Conserving the threatened large carnivores of the W transboundary reserve in their last stronghold in West Africa, the W-Arly – Pendjari (WAP) landscape [IUCN SOS]

    ZSL started to work in the WAP landscape in 2014, with a focus on Pendjari and W National Parks in Benin. Then in 2017, ZSL refocused its activities in W National Park in Niger following the take over of the management of Pendjari by African Parks. Since 2017, most activities are focused with W NP in Niger and with communities located around W NP in Benin and Niger (DEFRA UK Challenge fund: 2018).                

    This project is working to address the poaching threat to elephants, big cats, and other wildlife, as well as increasing 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 the 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 collaboration with Panthera and 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 law enforcement agents in Benin in basic law enforcement techniques.
    • Guidance to law enforcement agents in the acquisition and management of criminal intelligence.
    • Supporting and educating judiciary alongside partners, to strengthen the application of wildlife laws.
    • Facilitating the collection of information on seizures and arrests from the Beninese customs and gendarmes and analysing the data to identify supply chains and estimate the scale of illegal wildlife trade.
    • Empowering communities through the establishment of community surveillance networks around the parks to help gather information on illegal activity.

    Communities surrounding the W National Parks in Benin and Niger are the focus of the initiative in terms of community participation because in these communities there is a higher probability of being involved in or impacted by illegal activities related to IWT.   

    Communities will be directly involved in the identification and implementation of incentive schemes supporting sustainable livelihoods or mechanisms by which communities can have a stronger voice in natural resource management. For example, although not yet realised, the initiative will be working with communities on strategies to improve stewardship and conservation of large carnivores:

    1. To increase community support for large carnivore conservation, the project community team will identify target communities at priority sites around the main community blocks, carry out baseline surveys on knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions around large carnivore management, and develop and apply ‘support’ metrics in order to establish baselines. Participatory consultation meetings will be used to assess needs (socio-economic status, natural resource use, cattle management, and grazing, etc.) in the target communities. 
    2. The second step will be the development and piloting of potential incentives to enhance community support for large carnivore conservation. This will be realised through participatory consultation meetings on potential incentive options to develop, review and prioritise them. Whilst these are yet to be identified they will be based on a review of existing schemes/mechanisms and self-selected by communities, e.g. enhancing revenues for local sustainable livelihoods, village savings and loans schemes, support for livestock management, integration into community scout schemes, accessing benefits from eco-tourism/hunting etc. Examples of possible options include beekeeping, installation of bomas, raising awareness on human-carnivore conflicts, baobab nurseries, and chili cultivation.   

    We are providing an ongoing on-the-ground presence to support local partners and ensure that changes are embedded within local institutions.

    ZSL's work in Cameroon has shown that useful intelligence information can be provided through informant networks. So similar activities involving trained law enforcement agents and members of local communities in Benin and Niger may potentially provide useful intelligence information to tackle IWT. 

    Regarding incentive schemes, initiatives recently developed by COGEZOH (Contribution à la Gestion des Zones Humides), an NGO based in Niger, have shown that local communities are interested in these, and options such as beekeeping and honey production look promising. In the future, ZSL will work in collaboration with COGEZOH to implement these.

    The strategy

    Strengthening disincentives for illegal behaviour

    Paid in money community scouts
    Performance-based payments/incentives for patrolling or guarding
    Un-paid (voluntary) community scouts
    Paid in-kind community scouts
    Monetary incentives for community intelligence
    Further detail

    Eco-guards in W Niger, including Eaux et Forêts agents (‘Foresters’ under the supervision of DFC-AP within MEDD) and community scouts (employed members of local communities). 

    Local community scouts are integrated into eco-guards patrol teams as needed.

    Ecoguards benefit from performance-based bonuses linked to patrol effort and results.

    Provide training and mentoring of staff on intelligence gathering, agent management, use of sensitive information, use of SMART for patrols and other patrol strategy, field skills, personal safety, data collection + equipment, and technical support.

    Bonuses for sources from local communities in the W Transboundary Biosphere Reserve periphery in Benin and Niger.

    Increasing incentives for wildlife stewardship

    Trophy hunting
    Further detail

    In Benin: 30% of income generated by the parks (through hunting and tourism) is paid to AVIGREF (community association in Benin, which represent 85 village associations).

    In Niger: 50% of income generated by tourism activities should be redistributed to local municipalities. (However, these benefits depend on visitor levels, which in turn are linked to good management of the landscape, ensuring security and maintaining wildlife populations).

    Job creation/direct employment of local staff members by ZSL (community technical lead, community officer, SMART officers, camera trap field officer...).

    Increasing livelihoods that are not related to wildlife

    (Non-wildlife-based) enterprise development/support
    Further detail
    • Plan to engage in incentive schemes (for at least 500 families) which will potentially include – market value enhancement for sustainable NTFPs, farmed produce, village savings and loans schemes, cattle health management etc… as selected by the communities themselves. This has already been initiated in Niger and we plan to bring additional support. 
    • Will ensure equal opportunity for men and women and age cohorts, ethnicities.
    • Now doing consultations to review potential incentives/livelihood interventions, noting existing mechanisms and self-selected by communities (e.g. enhancing revenues for sustainable livelihoods, honey production, market gardening, village savings and loans schemes, supporting livestock management, human-wildlife conflict mitigation, integrating community scout schemes, accessing benefits from eco-tourism/hunting, etc.). Based on these consultations, a pilot incentive programme will be carried out and evaluated.                                                                                                                                                 

    Has the initiative made a difference?

    This initiative has just started - so it is too early to see achievements.

    To evaluate and monitor the impact this initiative has on poaching, in 2017-2018 we have been conducting baseline surveys via focus groups and interviews on knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions around IWT (and want to develop a relevant metric for monitoring).

    In addition, market surveys will be carried out using protocols and approach developed in ZSL Benin surveys in 2017 – repeated in Benin and expanded to Niger to track trends in selected wildlife products available for sale (elephant, lion, leopard, cheetah, vulture and pangolin) at local markets around W Niger, W Benin and key markets through Benin.

    What works and why

    This programme has just started and it is therefore too early to identify what is working and what isn't. However, past experience has shown that providing an ongoing on-the-ground presence to support local partners helps to ensure that changes become embedded within local institutions.

    Factors for success

    Supportive, multi-stakeholder partnerships with a shared vision

    Further detail

    • Full support from Niger government to increase park protection 
    • Work in collaboration with other stakeholders who have been involved on a long-term basis in this landscape (including NGOs - FSOA, Panthera, etc. and Community Associations - e.g. AVIGREF - in 2016, AVIGREF defined an activity plan with a main objective of strengthening surveillance to reduce poaching).

    What doesn’t work and why

    This programme has just started and it is therefore too early to identify what is working and what isn't. 

    Organisers, donors and partners

    DEFRA UK Challenge Fund (2018-2021), USFWS, IUCN Cat Specialist Group, Save the Elephants, IUCN Save our Species.                                                                                                

    PANTHERA, CENAGREF, USFWS, Save the Elephant, ZSL, Rangewide Conservation Programme for Cheetah and Wild Dog (RWCP), WCS.


    • MEDD (Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development) and DFC/AP (Direction de la Faune, de la Chasse et des Aires Protégées) in Niger and CENAGREF (Centre National de Gestion des Reserves de Faune) in Benin = key local partners for support, capacity building and ultimate sustainability.
    • Tripartite MoUs signed between ZSL/Panthera and the CENAGREF in Benin and the Ministère de l’Environnement et du Développement Durable in Niger. 
    • Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger government have also demonstrated their full-buy to prioritize the conservation of the WAP threatened large carnivores, by recently building National Conservation Action Plans for Cheetah and African Wild Dogs.
    • These national authorities have responsibility for implementing protective measures in W National Park, they also conduct relevant surveillance and bio-monitoring of protected species.
    • AVIGREF (Village Associations for the Management of Wildlife Reserves) = community association in Bénin with responsibilities under a co-management agreement with the wildlife agency for parks in Benin, CENAGREF (Centre National de Gestion des Réserves de Faune). 
    • University of Porthmouth: research/forensics.

    For further information contact Sophie Grange-Chamfray (