UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Mare aux Hippopotames: Fight against Poaching and Covid-19
As part of the #SOSAfricanHeritage programme, the Burkinabe MAB National Committee worked to improve the management of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Mare aux Hippopotames. The focus was on the fight against poaching, the revitalization of tourism and new environmental education opportunities for the local population.
The aim of #SOSAfricanHeritage is to contribute to preserving independent and sustainable organisational structures at African World Heritage sites and Biosphere Reserves with the participation of civil society as well as to secure spaces dedicated to education for global citizenship, sustainability and cultural diversity.
The Biosphere Reserve Mare aux Hippopotames is located about 60km north of Bobo-Dioulasso in the province of Houet in southwest Burkina Faso. It is known for its freshwater lake ("mare") with its ponds and marshes in the floodplain of the Volta Noire river and for its gallery forests. The site is home to a great diversity of biodiversity, especially near the lake after which the reserve is named: the flora comprises 191 species with 136 genera and 52 families. Wild mammals include hippos, elephants, crocodiles, large antelopes, and numerous primates such as the monkey and warthogs. The birdlife is represented by 160 species of waterfowl. The lake itself is home to 34 species of fish. The Mare aux Hippopotames Biosphere Reserve is surrounded by ten villages with a population of around 40,000.
Restrictions due to the Pandemic
With the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic and the growing insecurity in the protected area, monitoring and anti-poaching activities in the Biosphere Reserve have declined considerably - among other things due to the slump in tourism and the associated loss of financial income. However, poaching is one of the reasons for the decline or even the disappearance of certain animal species, such as the sable antelope, which is one of the sites symbols alongside the hippopotamus and the elephant. Poaching has increased dramatically since the outbreak of the pandemic and, in addition to the current health and economic challenges, poses an existential threat to the UNESCO designated site.
Remedy through improved infrastructure and education
With the support of the German Commission for UNESCO, the Burkinabe MAB National Committee was able to improve the management of the biosphere reserve. The main priority was to take action against poaching. To this end, 20 team members were trained in anti-poaching measures and were equipped with four GPS devices for better monitoring.
Newly erected signs now mark the different zones of the biosphere reserve. The signs inform the population, for example, which activities are prohibited in the protected core area, and in turn make it easier for the patrols to monitor these areas. Through vocational training in the collection and processing of non-timber forest products, 20 women also gained alternative sources of income. In this way, they promote the sustainable use of the biosphere reserve.
Environmental education as well as the sensitisation of the local population regarding Covid-19 hygiene measures were further components of the project. Hygiene kits were distributed and 40 central washbasins were installed in the villages. The renovation of the visitor centre and the community-led maintenance of 50 kilometres of hiking trails have attracted more visitors to the biosphere reserve.
On the initiative of the Federal Foreign Office and the Goethe-Institut, an International Relief Fund was set up in summer 2020 to provide rapid support to cultural and educational organisations abroad during the Covid-19 pandemic. With its special support programme #SOSAfricanHeritage, the German Commission for UNESCO is part of the Relief Fund consortium.
- Site: Mare aux Hippopotames
- Country: Burkina Faso
- Type of site: UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
- Year of inscription: 1986