The Tuareg People and the Air Tenere Conservation and Development Project, Niger, West Africa
Jennifer Talbot

The integration of local people into the management of biodiversity conservation projects is vital to their success, especially in politically unstable regions. Regions of the world with high biodiversity, endemism and high numbers of endangered species are often the focus of international conservation organizations. While the ultimate management objective of these organizations is the conservation of biological diversity these organizations are now considering and incorporating local populations into their management schemes. Local people are key collaborators in helping conservationists fulfill their agendas but also in maintaining their own environment and resource base for their own use.

The emphasis in some conservation projects has been changing from strict preservationist top-down measures that are designed to prevent human impact on an area in order to maintain a strict pristine environment for certain species. The newly designed conservation projects are attempting to incorporate participatory planning and co-management into their projects or at least trying to incorporate some activities into their plan that take local peoples needs and traditional resource use strategies into account. These conservation and development projects are now widespread. Without the full collaboration and co-management with local peoples the chances for true conservation and development are greatly reduced. Despite the changing planning strategies, however, on the ground, true collaboration and successes in terms of conservation and development are not often seen.

In regions where there is political instability the need for local people involvement is even more crucial. In the case of Niger civil unrest led to the temporary suspension of the conservation and development project in a protected area. It was the locals who had been involved in the project management who had the initiative to restart the project. The locals are the ones who remain in the area with ultimate control of an area to fulfill their own conservation objectives with what they have and with what they have learned with project staff. This case study demonstrates a positive, if abrupt, transition from "outside project" to "local people" initiated activities in and around a protected area.

Most conservation and development management plans are funded by outside sources and are of relatively short duration. The underlying premise is that the conservation of biological diversity can be better achieved if local people are integrated into the project. They will feel responsibility for the project and their resources and will manage them better. So the strategy is to train local people to take over the management of the project in preparation for the end of the outsidersí presence and financial support. This transition is the most difficult step of them all and should be the focus of the management plan from the very beginning. This is especially true in cases where there is great political instability since the management transfer could come suddenly and unexpectedly.

Countries in Africa have varying percentages of their national land area under protected status (Figure 1) and (Figure 2). Although the best known ones are the large game reserves in East Africa there are many others throughout the continent. One of the largest areas is found in the West African country of Niger.

Figure 1.

Figure 2. Source: WRI Database, 1998.

Niger (Figure 3) is a country in the Sahelian region of West Africa. It covers 1,267,000 square kilometers. In 1997 its population was 9,389,000. (Britannica, 1998) Nigerís population has been increasing since 1950 and is expected to keep increasing. (Figure 4) Its population density therefore is also increasing. (Figure 5) In 1997 it had an average population density of 7.4 persons/sq. km (Britannica, 1998). Niger is still a predominantly rural country with 83% of the population in rural areas in 1995 and only 12% in urban areas. (Britannica, 1998)

Figure 3.


Figure 4. Source: WRI Database, 1998.

Figure 5. Source: WRI Database, 1998.

The human indicators for 1996 for Niger show a birthrate of 54.5/1000, death rate of 24.6/1000, total fertility rate of 7.4, and an infant mortality rate 117.6/1000 live births. In 1996 the life expectancy at birth was 41.1 for males and 40.2 for females. And in 1995 20.9% of males and 6.6% of females over the age of 15 were literate. (Britannica, 1998)

Niger contains six protected areas. The total area under protected status is 96,967.4 km2. Niger has protected 7.7% of its area. (IUCN, 1991, p206; WRI Database 1998-Percent of National Land Area Protected)<>

The two largest areas are the Air and Tenere National Nature Reserve and the Addax Sanctuary Strict Nature Reserve. (Figure 6). They are located on the edge of the Sahel and Saharan zones. "In other unmanaged parts of the Sahel the land can no longer sustain the peoplesí modest needs; pastures are overgrazed; soils are eroded; wildlife has disappeared." Thus perhaps protected areas have the potential for innovative management and habitat rehabilitation. (Newby and Wilson, 1993, p185)

The decision to establish a multiple-use Nature reserve rather than a national park from which the human population might be expelled, was made precisely to enable the people to continue living there and using the areaís natural resources. (Newby and Grettenberger, 1986, p249)
Figure 6. Source of data, Say, 1989.

The fact that the Air Tenere region in northern Niger was designated as a National Nature Reserve and not a National Park is very significant. Protected areas often restrict resource use by local populations. The different levels of access to resources are evident in the descriptions of IUCNís protected area classification categories.

<<>> A National Park is a more preservationist designation and is set up to "exclude exploitation or occupation". A National Park is Category II whereas a National Nature Reserve is in Category IV according to the IUCN system. (WCMC 1992 Protected Areas) A Category IV area is a habitat/species management area which is

managed mainly for conservation through management intervention. [It is defined as an] area of land and/or sea subject to active intervention for management purposes so as to ensure the maintenance of habitats and/or to meet the requirements of specific species. (WCMC Protected Areas) The example of the Tuareg people and their relationship with the Air Tenere National Nature Reserve in Niger is an example of collaboration with local peoples to incorporate their needs in to the management plan and to reduce the possibility for conflict. This case study has many lessons to teach us about population-environment dynamics and about people and protected areas. However, it is important to remember that this is one example of many and that the results here may only be partially applicable elsewhere since, in this area "local people are few in number and are not a serious threat to local plants and animals."(Wells and Brandon, 1992, p75). Newby and Grettenberger say, however, that there are "inherent differences between the conservation-oriented legislation and the land-use practices that are currently employed" and that these differences can lead to conflict. (Newby and Gretenberger, 1986, p249) Newby and Grettenberger say that: Careful thought and discussion with the reserveís inhabitants is a prerequisite to sound and realistic management, and should avoid on one hand the over-zealous suppression of sustainable practices, on the other, the wholesale abuse of natural resources. (Newby and Grettenberger, 1986, p249) The Air Tenere Reserve itself covers 77,360 square kilometers (WCMC, 1992 Protected Areas) in northern Niger. Within that larger reserve is a Strict Nature Reserve called the Addax Sanctuary, which covers 12,805 square kilometers. This reserve is classified in the IUCN management Category I (IUCN, 1991, p206) which is defined as an "area of land and/or sea possessing some outstanding or representative ecosystems, geological or physiological features and/or species, available primarily for scientific research and/or environmental monitoring."(WCMC, Protected Areas). It is one of the strictest preservation categories possible.

The National Nature Reserve as a whole

was established as a multi-use area in 1988 by legislation that banned hunting but specifically allowed the resident population to remain and protected their customary resource-use rights, including fuelwood collection, harvesting of fruits and certain plants, and livestock grazing (Wells and Brandon, p73) The Addax Sanctuary within the larger reserve has many more restrictions. The activities prohibited include: hunting; forest exploitation; agriculture; pastoralism; mining or prospecting; any activity modifying the surface of the land or vegetation; any activity tending to harm or modify the fauna or flora; penetration, circulation or camping or residence; flying at low-altitude. (IUCN, 1991, p205) These restrictions are to protect some of West Africaís remaining populations of the endangered Addax (Addax nasomaculatus) (Figure 7), Dama Gazelle (Gazella Dama) and ostrich (Struthio camelus) (Figure 8) The Air also has the shy desert fox the fennec. (Newby and Wilson, 1993, p180-81) (Figure 9) WWF also cites other species in the area: Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), Nubian bustard (Neotis nuba), Slender horned gazelle (Gazella leptoceros), wild olive (Olea lappesinei), and wild sorghum (Sorghum spp.). (WWF-Niger) Wild millets (Pennisetum spp.) are another of the more than 50 plant species, which occur in the Reserve. These wild plants which are able to endure the harsh surroundings of the Sahel and Sahara could be used to genetically invigorate their domesticated relatives. (Newby and Wilson, 1993, p182)

Figure 7. Say, 1989.


Figure 8. Say, 1989.


Figure 9. Say, 1989.

These reserves were gazetted in 1988 (IUCN, 1991, p201) and were declared a World Heritage site in 1991 by UNESCO in recognition of their natural and cultural resources. (WWF-Niger)

These reserves are located in the Department of Agadez in the Arrondissement of Arlit. The Department of Agadez makes up most of the northern region of the country. (Figure 10) It has a very low population density compared with the other regions of Niger. (Figure 11) In 1988 its population density was only 0.3 people/sq. km while the density of the whole country was 5.7. (Ministere de Developpement Social, 1988) The population of the Department has been relatively stable from 176,900 in 1984 to 189,000 in 1990. (Figure 12) The population of the city of Agadez (Figure 13), however, has been increasing from 10,000 in 1971 to around 50,000 in 1991. (Figure 14) The reserves are located between 17° 12¢ North and 20° 30¢ North and 08° 06¢ East and 10° 57¢ East. (Messa, Internet) "The reserves encompass a variety of arid and hyperarid habitats, ranging from the regs (tracts of stony desert) (Figure 15) and ergs (areas of shifting sand dunes) (Figure 16) of the Tenere to the more clement mountain and valley habitats of the Air Massif." (Newby and Grettenberger, 1986, pp249-50) (Figure 17) There is also a range of elevations within the reserve area beginning at around 500m in the Tenere and rising to 1,998m at the summit of Mt. Tamgak. (Newby and Grettenberger, 1986, pp250). (Figures 17 and 18) The Air region is "both topographically and biologically more diverse than the lowland, desert and sub-desert habitats surrounding it."(Newby, 1992, p19) (Figure 19) The climate is this region is extreme. Annual temperatures range between 0-50 degrees centigrade and annual rainfall is between 0-75mm. In addition rainfall is spatially and temporally highly erratic and unpredictable. (Newby, 1990, p54)

Figure 10. USGS

Figure 11. nerpop1f.stm


Figure 12. Britannica 1987, 1988, 1997, 1998, Ministere de Developpement, 1988

Figure 13.

Figure 14. Atlas of Africa, 1993, Atlas du Niger, 1980, Atlas Jeune Afrique, 1994, Britannica, 1990, 1992, 1996, 1998

Figure 15. Newby and Grettenberger, 1986, pp249-50

Figure 16. Newby and Grettenberger, 1986, pp249-50


Figure 17. Say, 1989.

Figure 18.

Figure 19. Digital Chart of the World-Topography

This erratic rainfall does not allow agriculture as is practiced in the southern regions but there is an area within the microclimates of the Air where there are some wheat and rice is cultivated. (Figure 20) In this northern region, however, most people are pastoralists.(Figures 21 and 22).
Figure 20. basedocs/ner/nercul1f.stm


Figure 21.


Figure 22

The people living in and around the reserve are Tuaregs. The Tuareg people are Zenaga Berbers from the north who came to the Air in about the seventh century. There are many now living in the center and western areas of the northern part of Niger. (Atlas of Africa, 1973, p136) "They are a fiercely independent and proud people who have roamed the arid land of Niger and the other West and North African countries for centuries". (Newby and Wilson, 1993, p179)

The Tuaregs (Figures 23, 24, and 25) are an ethnic minority of the population of Niger and have varied from 3 to 10% of the population from 1977-1988. (Figure 26) The Tuareg population is estimated to be 5000 in the Northern Air (Newby, 1992, p22) and 7000 in the region (New York Times, 1988). There are about 4500 Tuaregs (Newby, 1990, p54; Wells and Brandon, 1992, p73) living in the reserve area of 77,360km2. However, the majority of this population is concentrated in the villages of Iferouane (Figure 27) and Tin Telloust (Newby, 1990, p54) In 1988, 1,500 lived in Iferouane (New York Times, 1988). In 1977, however, the population of the area was 2,500-3,000 with 1,200 sedentary in and around Iferouane with other small sedentary populations by the gardens at Tin Telloust and Zomo. The rest of the population is pastoralist in and around the Air Massif. (Newby and Grettenberger, 1986, pp 251-2)

Figure 23.

Figure 24.

Figure 25.

Figure 26. Britannica Book of the Year Volumes 1989,1991, 1992, 1996, 1998

Figure 27. Say, 1989.

The main livelihood of the Tuaregs is herding camels, goats, and sheep and farming small irrigated plots of wheat, maize, onions, tomatoes, and spices. Many Tuaregs are still involved in the caravan trade "between the Air, the salt and date-producing oases of Bilma and Fachi, and the sub-Sahelian grain-producing regions of Niger and Northern Nigeria." (Newby and Grettenberger, 1986, p251) (Figures 28 and 29) However, this caravan trade is not so prevalent now due to lack of camels, drought, and competition from motorized transport. (Newby, 1990, p54)

Figure 28. Say, 1989.


Figure 29. Say, 1989.

Newby says that there is a "rude but effective balance between the Airís relatively small human population and its natural resources". This is partly due to the isolation, sparsity of resources and extreme climate. It is during periods of drought, however, that that the "demand on limited supplies of water and vegetation increases and if prolonged leads to crop failure, widespread overgrazing, loss of livestock, mass exodus of the human population and not infrequently, death from disease or starvation."(Newby, 1992, p22)

One underlying goal of the management plan for the Reserve area was to maintain to the extent possible the traditional forms of land use and to not have to remove or hamper the resident people (Tuaregs) who rely on the reserve. (Newby, 1984)

The establishment of a large protected area in the Air . . . provide[s] an excellent opportunity for the rational management of natural resources. The fact that the human population of the area is recognized as being a fundamental component of the ecosystem involved instead of being expelled to simplify matters, will add validity and relevancy to the work. (Newby, 1986, p252) The strict limitations on this desert reserve and wildlife sanctuary area, however, have not significantly affected the local population since the area was very rarely used by them. (Newby and Wilson, 1993, p182) "In fact, many people living outside the reserve have asked that its boundaries be extended to encompass their own land" in order to keep it from being plundered for firewood needed for the nearby towns.(Newby, 1992, p24)

Although people in the area used to hunt for food, wildlife is too rare and difficult to hunt today.

In fact, the general attitude to wildlife is one of benevolence, the Tuareg often stressing its cultural and aesthetic value. As might be expected of a people almost wholly reliant on natural resources for its existence perception of environmental health is acute and wildlife is seen as both an indicator and a product of environmental well being. (Newby and Wilson, 1993, p183) Exploitation of uranium from the Air Mountains and Arlit began in 1970. (Atlas of Africa, 1973, p139) This brought a well maintained paved road connecting the northern reaches with the south and increased the population of the north, even if only in one town of Arlit, in the middle of the desert. Arlit is the capital of the arrondissement of Arlit in which the Reserves are located. This mining center, however, is not located close to the Reserve and did not increase the population density around the Reserve but instead drew people away to work in the mines. At the same time, however, the effects of the prolonged drought actually caused many people to leave the area for neighboring Algeria and Libya. So, if anything, there had been emigration from the site of the Reserves in the 1970s. (Newby and Grettenberger, 1986, p251) There were, however, other factors, which did put more human pressure on the Reserves. Rainfall is totally unpredictable in time, space and quantity, and precipitation usually varies by more than 30% from one year to the next. Unfortunately, the expansion of rain-fed or irrigated agriculture is restricting migration patterns, often resulting in close contact between man and wildlife and invariably, increased hunting. (Newby, 1984, p132) The effects of this have been seen on the scimitar-horned oryx, which was pushed off of its grazing ground once water was made available for domestic livestock. This closer proximity of man and wildlife led to an increase in poaching. (Newby, 1984, p132). Threats to the management of the Air and Tenere National Nature Reserve come from: poaching by the military; insensitive tourist disturbance of wildlife (particularly the motorized pursuit of animals to obtain photographs, which can result in their deaths from exhaustion or heat stress) and littering; overgrazing and exploitation of firewood (near centers of population); illegal commercial wood collecting; and failure of reserve authorities to obtain complete political recognition by other governmental departments. (IUCN, 1991, p202) Hunting has been banned throughout Niger but is still widely practiced. Traditional hunting without modern weapons or motorized vehicles most likely does not significantly impact the numbers of wildlife. (IUCN, 1991, p203) Thus the threat posed to wildlife today "is not from the Tuareg but from drought, desertification, harassment by tourists and hunting by armed forces."(Newby and Wilson, 1993, p183)

There were five main factors, which spurred the creation of the protected area:


In addition, however, there were certain factors, which led to the selection of the specific site as the reserve. It is essential to examine these along with the successes and failures of the reserve to be able to evaluate these criteria.

The ten criteria are:

In response to these conditions, especially to the endemic species in the region, a management plan was established. Since 1979 WWF <> and IUCN have been working with the government of Niger on the development of a conservation and natural resource management programme in the Air and Tenere desert regions, based upon the premise that its exceptional natural characteristics could only be preserved over the long term through active involvement of its residents (WWF-Niger) The fact that "active involvement" of the residents was a premise from the beginning was significant. "The ultimate aim of the project was to . . . transfer as much responsibility to the reserveís management, law enforcement and surveillance from the largely Ďaliení government staff to the land users themselves." (Newby and Wilson, 1993, p185) However, it is important to remember that this is a lot easier to put on paper than to actually carry out.

WWF states the objectives of the projects as "1) To promote the conservation of flora and fauna, sustainable land use, and development 2) To improve the livelihood of the local people 3)To train people in natural resource management" (WWF-Niger) WWF then divides the activities of the project into the categories of infrastructure development, conservation and rehabilitation of natural resources and rural development. Infrastructure development includes recruitment of personnel, construction of staff housing, maintenance of vehicles, training for local masons in adobe constructions, staff training in conservation and natural resource management, and strengthening the central wildlife services. Conservation and rehabilitation of natural resources includes improvement of conservation of flora and fauna and historic/cultural sites, boundary demarcation, conservation awareness among local people, tourism control, collection of data on natural resources, a monitoring program for changes in natural resources and ecological processes, protection of important plants (genetically, economically, aesthetically), advice and assistance to local authorities on afforestation schemes, and analysis of habitat use by livestock. Rural development activities include

assistance to gardeners through the introduction of improved agroforestry techniques; popularization of adobe houses which avoid use of wood; training people on how to construct and use improved wood-burning stoves; establishing nurseries to produce plants for reforestation, dune stabilization, management of water catchment areas, and human use; training people in the use of draft animals, biogas, wind power, animal husbandry, and terracing; first aid training. (WWF-Niger) Wells and Brandon in their study and evaluation of ICDPs (Integrated Conservation and Development Projects) from around the world also evaluated the reserve. Since the reserve was established, publicity surrounding the project, legal prohibitions against hunting, and enforcement activities of project staff have largely eliminated poaching. Wildlife populations appear to be gradually increasing. There have been no recent droughts, and so grazing regulations are thus far untested. Efforts to restore pastures have had limited success so far. Most of the villagers have benefited-directly or indirectly Ėfrom the dams. Many have also benefited from other project activities. This project is unusual in that local people are few in number and are not a serious threat to local plants and animals. While the peopleís relationship with the project has generally been for employment, with limited participation in decision making, the project appears to have made a promising start toward achieving its goals. (Wells and Brandon, 1992, p74) Management of protected areas is not immune from political struggles. The real test of the effectiveness of the groundwork that has been laid is how it can fare during times of unrest. The civil war that broke out in 1991 between the Tuaregs and the government caused a marked transition in the management of the reserve.

The civil war was a result of years of tension between the Tuareg rebel group and the government of Niger. "In recent years they [the Tuaregs] have tried to shake off years of domination under colonial rule and have increased their demands for recognition in a more equitable sharing of resources". (Newby and Wilson, 1993, p179) The Air became a "strategic stronghold for dissident Tuareg"(Newby and Wilson, 1993, p179) In 1992 the Director of the Air Tenere Conservation and Development Project was kidnapped and taken hostage by rebel forces" and presumably killed. (Slavin, 1996, p51) A month after this rebels attacked Iferouane where the reserveís project headquarters was located. They took project vehicles, radios, tools, tires and a hostage. IUCN and WWF decided that project activities should be suspended temporarily. (Newby and Wilson, 1993, p179) One can speculate that the attacks were focused at the project Director and goods in order to make a statement that the Tuaregs didnít want outside interference in their region in the Air. By taking goods they gained materials for their rebel activities and by kidnapping the Director they drew international attention to their cause. However, once the conflict left the protected area zone some Tuaregs who had helped in the planning and creation of the reserve and its other conservation-related activities began to restart the project. This transition to local initiated projects showed that the management scheme that had been put in place was a sound one.

According to Newby and Wilson, there have been two key factors in the success of the project. First, there was a network of voluntary representatives of the Tuareg involved in the Reserve management. Local support grew from the obvious amelioration of rangelands within the reserve due to the projectís interventions but also from the "Tuaregs traditional love and respect for wildlife and their concern that it was fast disappearing". Secondly, the appropriate technology components of the rural development activities were well accepted by the Tuaregs. (Newby and Wilson, 1993, p184)

Most local people hope that the project will continue. In order to do so the Tuaregs chose five representatives from among themselves to negotiate with IUCN, WWF, and the Nigerien government for moral and technical support. They also formed a Provisional Committee to supervise watershed management, tree planting and well maintenance activities. (Newby and Wilson, 1993, p185)

Thus the whole management of the reserve went through a major transition when the project director was killed. IUCN and WWF pulled out. But instead of transitioning to yet another failed project, left to fade away in the absence of outside management the project transitioned to be managed by local control.

Whereas there was the potential for a positive transition to the rural development and conservation activities by the local people with local supplies and knowledge in the absence of outside support, ecotourism went through a negative transition.

One of the reasons that the Air Tenere region was chosen for the site of the Reserve was its high tourist potential. (Newby 1984, p134) Before the civil unrest in the area several thousand tourists visited the Reserve each year. The tourism benefited the local economy but also posed a threat to the wildlife (tourists chasing wildlife in desert vehicles). Thus stronger regulations were needed. Even so, local people needed to receive more of an economic benefit from the tourists. Thus, an information center was built along with a craft shop and local guides were trained to take tourists on treks. The civil unrest in the area caused the termination of weekly flights from Marseille, France to Agadez, which brought the majority of the tourists. Those who came from the south have been greatly reduced due to the danger of entering the area. Although there was a peace accord signed in October of 1994 that provided for an eventual limited autonomy (Britannica, 1998) for the Tuaregs, the northern region remains unsafe for unescorted travel.

There is still rebel activity in the area and the U.S. State Department travel advisory states:

that travel in the northern . . . areas of Niger is dangerous and should only be undertaken by air or protected convoy. Despite the peace agreement between the Government of Niger and the Tuareg rebel groups, there is a continuing threat of sporadic armed conflict and violent banditry. (US State Department, 1998) Thus there is not much demand for the tourism infrastructure that was established in Agadez and surrounding the Reserve. The transition from relative political stability to political unrest has had a direct impact on the transition of tourism from fairly abundant to negligible.

Therefore, the example of the Tuaregs and the Air Tenere Reserve serves as an example of a politically unstable region where the integration of the local people into the management of their biodiversity conservation in the form of conservation and rural development activities is vital to the success of the project. In this example there was a transition from the implementation of the IUCN/WWF project under relatively stable political conditions through the murder of the Director and the temporary suspension of the project to the point where local people were taking the initiative to restart the project. This was possible because of the local peoplesí participation in the management before the project pulled out. Their previous involvement and the focus on appropriate conservation and rural development activities was key to their ability and desire to continue the project. Ecotourism activities, which rely on outside clients, were hurt whereas, activities using local appropriate technology and local materials were restarted by the locals.


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