West African nature reserve escapes endangered listing

South Africa convinced the UN body's World Heritage Committee to back an amendment -- also supported by other African states -- to keep the W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP) complex off the list.

Elephants at Tapoa River, at the W National Park of Niger. W-Arly-Pendjari is a west African nature reserve spanning Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. Picture: Hamissou Halilou Malam Garba/ UNESCO.

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast - A west African nature reserve spanning Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger on Friday escaped a UNESCO listing as under threat despite the jihadist conflict harrowing the Sahel region.

South Africa convinced the UN body's World Heritage Committee to back an amendment -- also supported by other African states -- to keep the W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP) complex off the list.

Backers argued that the countries had set up sufficient measures to guard against attacks, including stepping up patrols.

The committee nevertheless warned that "the Outstanding Universal Value of the property is faced with potential danger" if the security measures were not enough to protect it.

It also said that Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger should compile a report on the conservation status of the WAP complex by 2022.

Described by UNESCO on its website as "a major expanse of intact Sudano-Sahelian Savannah" with forests and shrub- and grasslands, the WAP "includes the largest and most important continuum of terrestrial, semi-aquatic and aquatic ecosystems in the West African savannah belt".

It hosts 85 percent of west Africa's savannah elephants and "the only viable population of lions in the region".

But the protected area stretches across eastern Burkina, southern Niger and northern Benin -- a region at high risk of jihadist attacks where most western governments advise against travel.

Two Spanish journalists and an Irish animal conservationist were killed in April this year while accompanying a patrol in Arly, in Burkina's section of the WAP.

Two years before, a guide was killed and two French tourists were kidnapped in Benin's zone, before the pair were freed by French special forces 10 days later.

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