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The ‘W’ National Park, Niger is named thus for the reason that the River Niger which is the main constituent of the eastern perimeter of the park contorts in progression forming the letter W (Le Berre & Messan, 1995). The reserve is a world heritage site and is located close to 150Km South-East of the Niger Capital, Niamey (Ibid, 1995). Here from the banks of the Niger River, the reserve extends to the spot where the boundaries of the three countries of Niger, Burkina Faso, and Benin converge in the special capital district of Niamey (Jameson & Crisler, 1996).
W National Park was ascertained by an act of decree as a National Park on the 4th of August, the year 1954. However, the area on which it spans had been allocated as a reserve since 1937 (Koster, 1977). In the year of its establishment was when the Department of Eaux et Forets commenced security of the animal wildlife by deploying four warders on the banks of the seasonal tributary called Tapoa to patrol the key paths of the Niger part on a regular monthly basis (Ibid, 1977).
When the service Topographique carried out a flora study with aid of aerial snapshots, it was ascertained that about 90% of the reserve is covered in shrub savanna, another 7% is what is described as wooded savanna and the rest is grassland (Le Berre & Messan, 1995). It is the pitch of the ecosystem of the W National Park and bordering reserves in Dahomey and the Upper Volta region, in consideration of their location nestled in between the Sahara and the tropical forests that dictates the wide variety of animal and plant species (Koster, 1977).
The park is described as having a Sahelo-Sudanese climate meaning its average rainfall per annum ranges between 600 – 800mm, with summer monsoon rains. However, the rains are unpredictable, falling for 30 – 50 days with a given year (Le Berre & Messan, 1995). Temperature also varies within the climate of the park from a high of about 31.2o Celsius (c) falling to 10.7oC at the coolest time which is in the first month of the year, to highs of 44oC witnessed by a drop to 26oC during the most tepid season of the year in May. (Jameson & Crisler,1996).
It is estimated that a sum of 454 flora varieties was depicted in 1983. As of now updated approximation puts the new figure at 500 plant species or more (Le Berre & Messan, 1995). There exist half a dozen major habitat ranges found within the confines of the park. These include the earlier mentioned shrublands the savanna woods and forests situated along the seasonal watercourses that feed the Niger). The shrubbery of the Savannah woodland earlier described is associated with such flora species as Boscia senegalensis, Parkia biglobasa, Adansonia digitata, Prosopis Africana among many others (Le Berre & Messan, 1995).
The grasses meanwhile include species such as Andropogon gayanus (Koster, 1977). Evidently, most of the named species also make an appearance in the gallery forests which in addition also maintain species such as Vitex chrysocolla and Cola lowrifolia (Le Berre & Messan, 1995). However, the main attraction of much-hyped point of the attention are the dual orchid varieties only documented as native to the Niger, that is Eulophia cucculataa which according to expert opinion are highly susceptible to animal grazing and trampling (Koster, 1977). The W National Park is also reputed to host the only noteworthy remnant strip of riparian forest in the whole region of Niger (Jameson & Crisler, 1996).
It is reported that riparian forests external to the boundaries of the park have in great numbers been cleared or corrupted (Le Berre & Messan, 1995). The forest also includes wild flora species of herbaceous plants for example millet, rice, and members belonging to the leguminous family Vigna sp.
The fauna life of the Park is only describable as a classic of the Northern frontier of the Sudanese savanna (Jameson & Crisler, 1996). The Park once again hosts the Ione in-house resident population of the African elephant and wild buffalo – reputed to be the most dangerous animal in the African outback. Species such as the giraffe Giraffa Camelopardalis are notably absent (Le Berre & Messan, 1995). The roan antelope (Hippotragus equines [Desmarest]) which is regarded as a jeopardized and rare species in Eastern Africa is on the contrary more predominant in areas of West Africa (Koster, 1977).
The park is also home to several carnivorous animals, with close to 70 species of a wide range of daytime animals being described (Jameson & Crisler, 1996). The flesh-eating mammals of the park include hyenas, jackals, the lion Panthera leo, and cheetah Acinonyx jubatus (Le Berre & Messan, 1995). The primate species found in the park also include both baboons and monkeys species (Koster, 1977).
Waterbirds that carry out seasonal migrations can also be found within the park. A fairly accurate figure of 350 bird species has been cited within the confines of the park (Koster, 1977). Birds such as hornbills (Bucerotidae), bustards (Otididae) are commonplace within the Park’s borders. Again, one can easily spot raptors for example vultures (Accipitridae), the fish eagle Haliaeetus vocifer, and Gobar goshawk Meliaraz gabar are similar in plenty. The water birds mentioned at the paragraph’s beginning include the ibis (Threskiornittudae), egret (Ardeidae) – these constitute the waders (Le Berre & Messan, 1995).
Reptiles are found in the Niger River and they include the Nile crocodile Crocodylus niloticus (v), Python regius, Varanus niloticus among few others (Koster, 1977). Fishes found within the park are those common places to the River Niger (Le Berre & Messan, 1995).
The Park is a haven for thousands of the local Fulani cattle herdsmen, during the yearly resettlements (Jameson & Crisler, 1996). The dealing between man and the Park flora and fauna is made evident by the responsibility taken upon by the local tree species which include the baobab tree Adansonia digitata (Le Berre & Messan, 1995). But as earlier mentioned the local orchid species is very sensitive to grazing and crushing by cattle hooves (Koster, 1977).
The delicate balance of the flora can be utterly destroyed. Human influence has developed the Park’s ecosystem, evidence dating back to the Neolithic era (Jameson & Crisler, 1996). Thus the human population in its traditional, moderated form is part and parcel of the well-being of the entire ecosystem. The dangers evoked from increased human activity in the area include but are not only limited to – poaching (a threat in almost all national parks), illegal animal grazing, raging bush fires – caused by ignorance, fishing and even farming within the Parks (Le Berre & Messan, 1995).
To carry out preservation administration the authorities in 1977 dug up a dozen water holes to exert a pull on the wildlife (Koster, 1977). Another twenty watering holes were then added in 1984 (Le Berre & Messan, 1995). Since the year 1992, deliberate attempts have been affected to absorb neighboring communities in conservation efforts (Jameson & Crisler, 1996). The United States Peace Corps volunteers have embarked on the improvement of and on how to carry out effective fire control methods. A management sketch is under implementation funded under the auspices of the European Development, in cohorts with the Regional Project from 1995 (Koster, 1977).
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In conclusion, it is obvious that the wetland portion of the W Park is of great significance across national borders, for the preservation of birdlife, and has been distinguished under the Ramsar Convention. The Park houses the biggest populace of ungulates in West Africa, and non-domestic flora species, the key to the protection and genetic analysis. Something that makes it even more worthwhile to conserve is that the reserve is adjacent to the likes of similar sheltered vicinities in the neighboring country of Burkina Faso and in Niger territory. Thus it serves to add importance to these places for the continued existence of species that require expansive tracts of land for cyclic migrations.
Jameson, C.M., and Crisler, T.E.C. (1996). Guide book to Park ‘W’ National Park, Niger. Niamey, Niger, Peace Corps. Pp 103. Koster, S.
The Ecology of Parc National du ‘W’ du Niger. M. Sc. Thesis. Michigan State University. Le Berre, M., and L., Messan. (1995). The W Region of Niger: Assets and Implications for Sustainable Development. Nature and Resources, 31 (2): 18 – 31.