New Ramsar sites in arid and semi-arid areas of Niger

13/10/2005

Niger designates five Ramsar sites

The Secretariat is extremely pleased to announce that the Government of Niger has added five new Wetlands of International Importance to its previous total of seven, all effective as of 16 September 2005. La mare de Dan Doutchi (25,366 hectares, 14°15'N 004°37'E) and La mare de Tabalak (7,713 ha, 15°04'N 005°38'E) are both significant permanent ponds in the southwest-central department of Tahoua, and La mare de Lassouri (26,737 ha, 14°02'N 009°35'E) is a semi-permanent wetland in Zinder department in the south, part of the Lake Chad catchment. The Oasis du Kawar is a large (368,536 ha, 19°43'N 012°86'E) complex of oases that form a haven between the Erg du Ténére and Erg de Bilma deserts in the vast Agadez department in the north - the Gueltas et Oasis de l'Aïr is an enormous (2,413,237 ha, 18°18'N 009°30'E) complex of permanent and temporary streams, oases and marshes that lies in the center of Niger's portion of the Sahara, also in Agadez. All five sites perform extremely important roles in the lives and livelihoods of their local populations. Ramsar's Lucia Scodanibbio has prepared brief descriptions for the Annotated Ramsar List, and these can be seen below.

WWF's Global Freshwater Programme provided very important assistance to the Government of Niger in the preparations for these designations, and at the 24th Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers of the Niger Basin Authority, meeting in Ouagadougou, 15-16 September, 2005, Niger State Minister Abou Labo, current chairman of the NBA, was presented with certificates for the new Ramsar sites by representatives of two of Ramsar's partner organizations, Denys Landenbergue, WWF International, and Issa Seydina Sylla, Wetlands International.

Denys Landenbergue, WWF International's Global Freshwater Programme, presenting Ramsar site certificates to Niger State Minister Abou Labo, 16 September 2005.

Minister Abou Labo and Issa Seydina Sylla, Wetlands International

Five new Ramsar sites in Niger

Gueltas et Oasis de l'Aïr. 16/09/05; Agadez; 2,413,237 ha; 18°18'N 009°30'E. National Reserve. A complex of permanent and temporary streams, oases and marshes at the centre of the Niger portion of the Sahara desert, hosting a number of endangered species such as the vulnerable cheetah, Barbary sheep and Dorcas gazelle, as well as the critically endangered Addax. Up to 290 species of angiosperms and 150 species of birds have been counted at the site. The wetlands play an important role in flood control, while the vegetation acts as a sediment trap. Subsistence agriculture is important for the local population, who have formed cooperatives to irrigate and sell their products, which provide substantial revenue in return. Raising goats, and to a certain extent donkeys, sheep and camels is, with agriculture, at the basis of 98% of people's livelihoods in the area. The archaeological and cultural value of the site is high due to the remains of old cities (e.g., Assodé), Neolithic engravings showing animals which have now become locally extinct (e.g., giraffes, elephants), and objects such as arrows, pottery and shells which are a reminder of the camel caravans that used to pass through the area. Desertification, combined with anthropogenic pressure, is changing the area's ecology and consequently its ability to support both animal and human populations. Ramsar site no. 1501.

La mare de Dan Doutchi. 16/09/05; Tahoua; 25,366 ha; 14°15'N 004°37'E. A permanent pond that, with its surrounding vegetation, is characteristic of the climatic transition zone between the Sahel and the Sahara. Plant diversity is relatively high for both grass and woody species; the area is also an important wintering site for Afrotropical and Palearctic migratory birds, of which 40 species have been counted The main human activity is fishing, which provides both an important protein source and substantial revenue to the local people: fresh fish is sold in neighbouring towns, while the surplus is smoked or fried and exported to Nigeria. Subsistence flood recession agriculture also takes place, with cassava, maize, green beans, onion and sweet potato, and once crops are harvested the land becomes pasture again. Unsustainable agricultural and fishing methods and overgrazing threaten the ecological balance. A management plan is being developed which will consider the needs of the local people and seek their participation. Ramsar site no. 1492.

La mare de Lassouri. 16/09/05; Zinder; 26,737 ha; 14°02'N 009°35'E. A semi-permanent wetland, part of Lake Chad's catchment, which during the dry season splits up into a string of shallow ponds with good water quality. The area shows high density of woody vegetation which is rarely found in the Sahel, characterized by Acacia nilotica, Acacia albida and Mitragyna inermis. It is an important refuge for waterbirds and regularly hosts an average of 23,000 birds, with especially significant proportions of Dendrocygna viduata and the Comb duck (Sarkidiornis melanotos) in addition to egrets, sterns, ducks, herons, sandpipers and harriers. The site supports small-scale agriculture (vegetables and cereals) and fishing (mainly of Clarias angularia and Protopterus annectens) and provides pasture for both local livestock and that of nomadic pastoralists who visit the site for part of the year. The area is threatened by over-grazing, illegal logging and sand deposition caused by water and wind erosion. No conservation measure is in place at the moment apart from rules deriving from legislative and customary law. The main scientific activity in the area is related to bird counts under OMPO's (Migratory Birds of the Western Palearctic) western Africa programme. Ramsar site no. 1493.

La mare de Tabalak. 16/09/05; Tahoua; 7,713 ha; 15°04'N 005°38'E. One of the most significant ponds in Niger, with a high diversity of flora, but especially fauna, in its role as a refuge of waterbirds, particularly ducks and waders. The site hosts an average of 14% of the biogeographic population of the Egyptian goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus). The wetland also helps in flood control and in recharging groundwater. Its permanence is, however, relatively recent, following the rupture of the upstream Kori d'Ibaga dam in the 1970s, and the village of Tabalak became settled with people who moved in from far and near to assist in the construction of the "uranium route". The village is dependent on the fish, water resources and agricultural land associated with the wetland - between 100 and 300 tonnes p.a. of fish are supplied and sold, providing important income to the local people, and some 5,400 people benefit from the agricultural land around the wetland, while firewood and other natural resources are used by the local population- the Touareg and Haoussa - and their livestock. No special conservation measures are in place, but small projects have been undertaken to increase the social benefits arising from the site, such as introduction of fish in the wetland and dykes to hold more water for agriculture. Ramsar site no. 1494.

Oasis du Kawar. 16/09/05; Agadez; 368,536 ha; 19°43'N 012°86'E. A complex of oases between two deserts, the Erg du Ténéré to the west and the Erg de Bilma to the south and east, one of the last remaining areas in Niger where different varieties of productive date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) can be found and are reputed for their high quality. It also is a refuge for different mammals like the Cape hare, the Golden jackal, and the vulnerable Dorcas gazelle and Barbary sheep. The oases are part of the enormous aquifer system of the Djado and Bilma basins and are fed by freshwater resurgence and a shallow water table. This water source is essential for the local population, which practices subsistence agriculture in small fields around the oases, growing vegetables (peanuts, salad, cabbage, carrots) and fruits (guava, mangoes, citrus and bananas) which contribute to families' income. They also harvest dates, which are exchanged for cereals, and salt from small salines found in the area. The oases are along the ancient trans-Saharan desert route linking Algeria and Libya to Lake Chad. Sand deposition and soil salinisation are the main threats - windbreaks are seen as the solution to reduce sand deposition, and there are plans to restore degraded palm plantations and improve agricultural techniques to reduce damage to the environment. Awareness campaigns by local NGOs and technicians have been carried out in the past. Ramsar site no. 1495.

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