The Ferlo is more than a sanctuary for persecuted animals and a home for the Fulani people—it represents hope around the world for a better future, where wildlife and humans can live in harmony with each other and nature.
That’s why Friends of Animals continues its partnership with Senegal’s National Parks Directorate to transform the damaged ecosystem. The poet Robert Frost once proclaimed that “good fences make good neighbors”—and the Ferlo is an excellent example. On one side of this fence are the Fulani pastures and villages. On the other is Ferlo North Wildlife Reserve, a protected, enclosed habitat that today consists of 12,355 acres exclusively reserved for wildlife and nature conservation because of Friends of Animals.
There’s been lots of friendly interchange, commitment and helping hands reaching between the two sides enabling us to arrive where we have today—recovered habitat and wildlife. Ferlo North actually extends far beyond the fenced area—it sprawls across 1.2 million acres, about 1,880 square miles, nearly the same size as Grand Canyon National Park in the U.S. However, Grand Canyon National Park has an annual budget of $15.8 million, and a staff of 372 people.
By contrast, Ferlo North operates with an annual budget of $32,000 and a staff of precisely 14 rangers. It’s clear to see why Ferlo North benefits from external support, which is why FoA, with the help of its members, has always stepped up. And we have the best partners in the Senegalese, who have an innate respect of wildlife.
PARTNERS IN HEALING
FoA has been partnering with the National Park Directorate for more than 30 years. Early on, we were focused on stopping poaching in Niokolo Koba National Park, home of Senegal’s last population of elephants. FoA provided equipment, vehicles, training and other resources that helped the Senegalese rangers gain the upper hand.
During that time, the government of Senegal decided something needed to be done about the Ferlo, which was degraded from overgrazing by livestock and getting worse. The Ferlo once was a robust landscape with an abundance of diverse plants and animals. Thanks to the natural depressions scattered across the Ferlo’s topography, water from the seasonal rains that fall between July and September collected and created ponds that provided drinking water. Several of these ponds endured through the entire nine-month dry season.
Everyone was aware that if changes were not made soon, the entire region would fall victim to desertification, and the people living there left destitute. So, the government transferred authority to administer the Ferlo’s 7,946 square miles to the National Parks Directorate, with instructions to create a new management regime that relied upon the concepts of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) Biosphere Reserve doctrines.
Ferlo North Wildlife Reserve, originally comprised of 1,235 acres, was created in 1996 and in 2012 designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME
Well before that, FoA was on the ground planning habitat rehabilitation and wildlife restoration. We noticed that the Senegalese were keen on reintroducing the scimitar-horned oryx, a statuesque antelope with gracefully curved horns that soar more than a yard above its head.
The scimitar-horned oryx is so beautiful that every one of them was killed—the heads of many of the last oryxes today are stuffed and mounted on walls of affluent European and American trophy hunters. In the year 2000, the scimitar-horned oryx was officially classified as “extinct in the wild.”
Fortunately for the species, an Israeli named Avraham Yoffe, director of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, saw the extinction coming, and in the 1970s started gathering whatever oryxes he could find to the Hai-Bar Wildlife Reserve in the Israeli Negev Desert. He released the antelopes into a secure natural habitat of about 2,000 acres where they would be well protected, properly fed with their natural foods, provided with very good veterinary attention, and encouraged to exercise and preserve their wild behavior.
The oryxes did very well under these natural conditions and provided the fundamental resource in 1999 for an oryx reintroduction project agreed upon by the Israelis, Senegalese and FoA.
A team of Senegalese park rangers was invited to the Hai-Bar Reserve in Israel for intensive professional training in the care of the scimitar-horned oryxes. Once the Senegalese proved competent, three young males and five young female oryxes were selected from the Israeli herd and donated to Senegal.
The oryxes were first delivered to Guembeul Special Wildlife Reserve, a type of half-way house for endangered species needing special care. It’s located on Senegal’s Atlantic coast, about 100 miles north of Dakar, the capital.
While the oryxes were re-adapting to African life, the Senegal-Israeli-FoA team moved inland, to the more challenging wild landscapes of the Ferlo, because we knew this is where the oryxes truly belonged.
In 2002, FoA sponsored the erection of a wire fence that enclosed the 1,235 acres of land near the Fulani village of Katane to protect the landscape from further degradation by livestock. It provided the land with opportunity to regenerate, which it did, with gratifying results.
We soon started on a community relations project as well, as conservation depends very heavily on good relations with the neighbors. So, young men from the village were given priority for jobs in building the fence, and various other infrastructure such as building a barracks for the rangers, and watering troughs for the animals.
In 2003, we transported the eight oryxes from Guembeul to the Ferlo. At that moment, these were the only scimitar-horned oryxes to stand on their ancestral Sahelian landscape. Today there are 550 of them.
NATURE IS BEING RESTORED
Along with the population growth of these antelopes came the growth of the habitat available to them and to other wildlife. In 2009, the 1,235- acre fenced habitat was expanded to 1,730 acres. By 2012, the area grew to 2,965 acres, and by 2019 it expanded further to the 12,355 acres there are today.
Senegalese rangers have been documenting the recovery of the habitat and now count 77 species of herbaceous plants, plus another 36 species of woody plants. Along with the “flagship” oryxes and the vegetation, more animals are also populating the Ferlo North Wildlife Reserve.
The fragile population of red-fronted gazelles is increasing, as are the reintroduced dorcas gazelles and mhorr dama gazelles. Endangered African spurred tortoises are in the process of being reintroduced.
Looking ahead, FoA plans to reintroduce the North African red-necked ostrich once the COVID-19 pandemic situation has subsided. There’s much more to be done. A new borehole well is a top priority.
Water is a most valuable commodity on this arid landscape. Natural depressions in the landscape that had been silted in by wind erosion need to be re-excavated, and natural ponds restored. Another 4×4 vehicle needs to be obtained.
We are hopeful all these needs will be met with the support of our members. We know you share our compelling need to heal nature where she has been wounded.
Serigne Modou Mamoune Fall is the curator of Ferlo North Wildlife Reserve, Souleye Ndiaye is the retired director of Senegal National Parks, Rony Malka is the retired deputy director and head of law enforcement at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), and Bill Clark is a retired INPA warden and current FoA senior policy advisor