A Mission to Increase Ivory Security in Benin's Northern Parks
The EPI Foundation’s Ulysse Korogone, has just returned from a trip to the far north of his native Benin Republic, where he was working on ivory security in a crucial wildlife habitat that is now plagued by insecurity. Here is his exclusive report.
Ulysse at W National Park
Benin's national parks, Pendjari and W, in the far north of our country, have unique flora and fauna, and are rich with potential. They have some of the largest herds of elephants in West Africa, as well as crucial populations of some of the last surviving lions and cheetahs. Unfortunately, these national parks border an area of political instability, and in recent years our rangers have learnt to accept that the threat of terrorist attack is part of their daily routine.
On my recent journey I met many brave men and women who remain committed to their duties. They don’t show fear on their faces, even if secretly they must mourn colleagues killed in the line of duty. Everyone I met was determined to stay in situ, and work for the conservation of wildlife.
Ulysse with assembled rangers at W National Park
The journey to Pendjari from Cotonou is over 700 kms. After the first 600 kms of tarmac road, we drove for a further 100 kms on a dirt road from Tanguiéta to the park. We traveled with an armed escort through the marvelous landscape of the Atakora Mountains to reach the operational base of our partners African Parks, who are working with Benin’s government to manage Pendjari and W National Parks.
Throughout the journey, despite the impressive scenery, our eyes searched in vain for signs of elephants or lions resting in the shade of the trees. But in both Pendjari and W National Parks, the security risks made it impossible for us to take any game drives or go to the water holes or rivers where one is most likely to see wildlife. We could tell, as we drove through the bush, that our armed escorts were under great stress and were concentrating fiercely. We therefore felt blessed when a herd of elephants passed by our operational base in Park W, leaving us with unforgettable memories imprinted forever on our minds.
Elephants in W National Park, Benin
We were welcomed in Pendjari and W by the managers and their teams, who were enthusiastic about our presence and the efforts made by the government and the EPI Foundation to ensure that stores of elephant ivory are secure and that the sacrifices of the rangers are not in vain. We installed storage cupboards, weighing scales and tablets at both parks to ensure that digital data recording becomes standard practice. It was heartening to see African Parks, the Benin government and the EPI Foundation working together with such commitment in challenging circumstances.
Ulysse leading the training on ivory security
At night we slept in the park headquarters of Pendjari and W, with patrols scouring the bush outside. The hours of darkness were long and stressful. I slept fitfully, waking at every noise and wondering what had caused it. It was with immense sadness that we learnt of a further attack in Pendjari just days after we left, resulting in the death of two soldiers and a ranger.
The memorial to rangers and other national park staff who have been killed while protecting the park.
On the evening of September 21, 2023, we left W national park, our hearts full of strong and mixed emotions. We know that the rangers we met, men and women, are risking their lives every single day. Each patrol could be their last. And yet, resolutely, weapons in hand, they will stick to their tasks, with heads held high.