The Republic of Niger is a vast, land-locked country of over 1.27 million km² (489,000 sq mi). Over 80% of the country is made up of aridlands receiving less than 500mm (20 inches) rainfall a year, most of this falling in a short rainy season from June to September. The majority of Niger’s 13.5 million citizens are concentrated in the south of the country where agriculture is possible. Others live in more arid areas, raising cattle, goats, sheep and camels.
The vastness and arid nature of the country, combined with poverty and a low human population density (11 per km²), has meant that unlike other countries in the region, desert wildlife populations have not been hit as hard but this is rapidly changing as the number of vehicles increases and Niger’s relatively rich wildlife resources are targeted by foreign hunting parties.
In spite of a lack of resources, Niger has accomplished some significant achievements in wildlife conservation. It can boast the immense Aïr & Ténéré National Nature Reserve (80,000 km²), the "W" National Park Regional Biosphere Reserve, and the last remaining population of the West African race of the giraffe, Giraffa camelopardalis peralta. Both "W" National Park and the Aïr & Ténéré Reserve are World Heritage Sites.
Niger is an active party to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Aniamls, otherwise known as the CMS or Bonn Convention. Under the CMS, an Action Plan for Sahelo-Saharan Antelopes was adopted by the range states in 1998. For Niger, one of the top priorities is the conservation of the Termit area, a mixture of desert and mountain habitats lying astraddle the Saharan and Sahelian zones of the country. Thanks to its isolation and habitat diversity, Termit has managed to retain what is probably the richest assembly of aridlands fauna remaining in the Sahara today, including addax, dama and dorcas gazelles, cheetah, Barbary sheep and striped hyena. The area is rich in bustards (Nubian and Sudan) and harbours one of the last and best remaining local populations of spurred tortoise.
Although plans to establish a protected area centred on Termit have been mooted since the 1950s, it is only now that efforts to implement this are underway. With support from CMS, the French Fonds Français pour l’Environnement Mondial (FFEM), the European Union and SCF, Niger’s wildlife department is laying the foundations of an ambitious desert wildlife conservation and recovery programme.
Northwest of Termit, across some of the most spectacular sandseas in the world, lies the Aïr Massif, a vast region of mountains and valleys lying hard up against the Ténéré desert. In 1988, a large part of the Aïr and Ténéré were declared a National Nature Reserve and in 1991, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is not only amazingly diverse in its geology and geography but supports a rich fauna and flora. And all of this against a backdrop of human habitation going back tens of thousands of years. Until quite recently the Aïr was home to the last remaining viable population of ostriches in the Sahara. In association with Niger’s wildlife authorities and private ostrich owners, SCF is spearheading an ambitious ostrich recovery programme with help from local, grassroots organizations.