Yankari Game Reserve, which supports Nigeria’s largest remaining elephant population, has experienced zero poaching in the last four years, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), reported today.

The announcement was made just days before officials gather for the meeting of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.  The success underscores the importance of tightening up the closure of importing countries’ domestic ivory markets, along with vigilant anti-poaching and anti-trafficking efforts.

WCS, which helps manage the protected area, attributes the success to well-managed, well-equipped and highly trained rangers who patrol the 866 square miles (2,244 square kilometers) reserve, which also supports important populations of lion, buffalo, hippo, roan and hartebeest.

Yankari’s elephant population remains stable at 100-150 individuals, and is expected to grow in the coming years, provided that conservationists remain steadfast in keeping poachers out of the reserve. As recently as 2006 there were as many as 350 elephants in Yankari, but a period of heavy poaching from 2006 to 2014 reduced their numbers dramatically. Since 2014 Yankari has been managed through a co-management agreement between Bauchi State Government and WCS.

Elephants are critically endangered in Nigeria, with the Yankari elephants being the only savanna elephants remaining in the country.  Some forest elephants also still remain in low numbers in the forested south including Cross River National Park area (where WCS is also working to secure forest elephants and the Cross River Gorilla).  Historically the Yankari savanna elephants may have been ecologically connected with the Sambisa area (impacted by Boko Haram) and perhaps also Gashaka Gumti National Park and neighboring areas of Cameroon.  This is a core critical area for elephant conservation in the Sudano-Sahel Region.

Originally created as a game reserve in 1956, Yankari was upgraded to a national park in 1991. It was managed by the National Parks Service until 2006 when responsibility for the management of the reserve was handed back to Bauchi State Government. Since then tourism infrastructure has been dramatically improved. Yankari is now one of the most popular tourism destinations in Nigeria.

“Rangers are the key to stopping poaching in protected areas” said Andrew Dunn, WCS Nigeria Program Director “Yankari is an amazing success story and shows the world that with targeted use of limited funds, and government commitment, progress can still be made provided that rangers are properly trained and supervised.”

Dunn attributes the success in the reserve to several factors. The leadership of Nachamada Geoffrey, Director of the Yankari Landscape for WCS, directs efforts to ensure a zero tolerance policy for corruption coupled with making sure all rangers are well-equipped in the field and trained with regular refresher courses. SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Supporting Tool) together with real time radio communications is used help guide and monitor the rangers and optimize their impact. WCS supplements rangers’ incomes with additional monies per night as an incentive whenever they are on a long-distance foot patrol.

Nachamada Geoffrey stated, “Solid logistical support (food rations), equipment, and motivation through regular salary payments support our ranger operations day in and day out.  Most of the rangers are recruited from the local community and are highly motivated to protect the wildlife of Yankari.”

Said David Adejo Andrew of Nigeria’s Federal Department of Forestry and Federal Ministry of Environment: “The efforts of the WCS in conserving the largest pool of elephant populations at the Yankari Game Reserve has given Nigeria a good platform for conserving other Elephant population in the country. This has encouraged the Nigerian Government to work with the WCS to translate this success stories to other areas.”

Of course in the long-term Yankari will only survive if it has the support of the surrounding communities.  Yankari is one of the main sources of employment locally, including both rangers, hotel staff and elephant guardians.  WCS is also working with local schools to help develop future conservation leaders.  In addition, WCS has helped establish an informant network among the communities surrounding the reserve that provides critical information on poachers.

Building on this foundation and work ethic, significantly more resources are urgently needed to fully establish the Reserves full management systems and effectiveness.

WCS’s conservation efforts within Yankari are supported by the Bauchi State Government, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Embassy of France in Nigeria, Australian High Commission in Nigeria, Tusk Trust, the North Carolina Zoological Society, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, CITES-MIKE, the UNEP African Elephant Fund, the A.P. Leventis Conservation Foundation, the Lion Recovery Fund—an initiative of the Wildlife Conservation Network in partnership with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, and the Elephant Crisis Fund—a joint initiative between Save The Elephants and the Wildlife Conservation Network, in partnership with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

WCS is a strong supporter of CITES, has staff who have attended all meetings of the Conference of the Parties since CoP7 in 1989, and will be represented by many international wildlife and policy experts at the 18th  meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP18) in Geneva, Switzerland, which takes place Aug. 17-28. WCS’ views on the proposals to amend the Appendices are based on the CITES listing criteria, the best available scientific and technical information, and information from our field and country programs around the world. To learn more about WCS recommendations go HERE. WCS’s ‘on-the-ground’ presence across much of the globe enables it to address multiple aspects of wildlife exploitation and trade, including wildlife crime, at all points along the trade chain in source, transit and consumer countries.