Largest nature reserve in Africa may lose half its land to oil development

The Termit and Tin Toumma National Nature Reserve in Niger was established in 2012 and is the largest on the African continent, covering nearly 38,600 square miles of desert and mountains in the southern Sahara, an area three times the size of Belgium and as large as the U.S. state of Maine. It has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for its remarkable biodiversity.

But now the government of Niger is considering a plan that would slash the size of the reserve by half so a large portion of it can be used for oil exploration, according to Mongabay:

“On June 26 this year, seven years after the reserve was established, the Council of Ministers of Niger announced that its boundaries would be modified, removing nearly 45,000 square kilometers (17,300 square miles) from the protected area.

“’We were shocked to learn this,’ said Sébastien Pinchon, parks manager at the French NGO Noé that manages the reserve on behalf of the government. The final agreement entrusting management of the reserve to Noé was signed just a few months ago, on Nov. 5, 2018.

“’We are just getting started, constructing buildings, buying vehicles and hiring people to properly manage the area,’ Pinchon told Mongabay. The size and remoteness of the area mean it will take one or two years for the reserve to be fully operational, he said.”

The company seeking to use the reserve for oil exploration is one of the largest in the world, China Natural Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which already has limited exploration rights in the reserve but is now pushing to expand operations:

“Ten years ago, Niger announced that in exchange for a $5 billion investment, the Chinese government-owned CNPC would build a number of wells, a 20,000-barrel-per-day refinery, and a pipeline out of the nation for exports.”

Even more tragic is the fact that the portion of the reserve the government wants to remove from protected status is where most of the wildlife is currently found:

“Including the addax–  of which fewer than 100 individuals remain in the wild – and another critically endangered species, the dama gazelle (Nanger dama). “’The government proposes to add a similar amount of land to reserve on its western boundary, but it has little ecological value,’ Pinchon said.”

Since CNPC began operating in the area, the addax population has plummeted, and the cause is human encroachment and poaching on land occupied by the animals, John Newby, senior adviser at the Sahara Conservation Fund, a conservation NGO, noted:

“‘It’s not the drilling, but poaching by Niger’s military units protecting the CNPC camps that has brought the addax to the verge of extinction.

“The poaching appears to be for meat. Bloodied military clothing has been found buried with addax remains. ‘I’ve run into these military patrols. No one is going to stop them out in the desert,’ Newby said.”

While it’s true that Niger is a poor nation that needs revenue from oil, extracting it can be done without destroying the environment, Newby maintains, adding:

“The proposed land swap isn’t the solution.”

For now, it appears that money will again win out over protecting Mother Nature.


Featured Image Via Flickr

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Andrew Bradford

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