Director General of Fauna, Hunting and Protected Areas, Samaila Sahailou, is the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) first ever Friend of the Month from Niger Republic, which in December 2022 became the 22nd country to join the EPI. Sahailou is Niger’s top wildlife official. In this interview, he lists persistence of insecurity as one of the threats and pressures faced by elephants
Tell us a bit about yourself – did you grow up in the countryside or in the city, and have you always had a passion for conservation?
I come from a family in the countryside, in the Maradi region of southern Niger. My father was a trader and my mother worked at home. I lost my father at the age of nine, when my uncle took me in and supported me through school. In 1985, I enrolled at forestry school in the suburbs of the capital Niamey. This is how my passion for nature conservation began.
On a professional level, I have worked in the key wildlife conservation positions in Niger, including eight years in W Park. As National Director for Wildlife, Hunting and Protected Areas, we’ve launched several initiatives, including a community surveillance network for monitoring Niger’s giraffes, improved patrols, tourism facilities and community relations at W Park.
What is the situation of elephants in Niger today and what are the biggest threats they face?
The elephant population remains confined to the W, Arly, Pendjari (WAP) parks complex shared between three countries: Niger, the Republic of Benin and Burkina Faso. In 2019 we estimated the overall population of elephants in this ecosystem was 3,239, of which 492 were recorded in Niger.
The threats and pressures faced by elephants in Niger are mainly the persistence of insecurity in the WAP, which is limiting our ability to patrol. Other challenges are human-elephant conflict leading to crop damage, ivory poaching, fragmentation of habitat, deforestation and bush fires.
Do you remain optimistic about the survival of elephants in Niger?
Yes, I am very optimistic, because we have the commitment and support of the highest authorities to conserve this emblematic species. At the end of 2022 the President of the Republic, speaking in Zinder, delivered a strong message against wildlife crime. And Niger’s decision to join the EPI is further proof of this.
Please tell us a little more about human-elephant conflict in Niger.
This is a major problem across Africa and featured prominently at the first African Congress on Protected Areas (APAC) held in Kigali in July 2022. There are a number of solutions, including strengthening the involvement of communities, increasing their income-generating activities, strengthening the intervention capacities of rangers, and improving protection of properties and crops.
Your compatriots in Niger face many challenges in their daily lives – do they have time to think about nature conservation?
There are many signs that people in Niger are engaged with nature conservation. People come forward willingly to denounce illegal activities and share information. Farmers living around protected areas come together to form associations dedicated to preserving biodiversity.