Liberation (France)
Coralie Schaub,
February 26, 2019

Good news for the latest lions, cheetahs, elephants and giraffes from West
Africa. The young NGO Wildlife Angel, created in 2015 to defend endangered
African wildlife, has just been tasked with protecting three West African
parks covering more than 5,300 km?: W Park in Niger, W Park in Burkina Faso
and Arly National Park, also in Burkina Faso.

100 Eco-Guards

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this area is home to 90% of the few
hundred West African lions remaining in the wild. There are also giraffes,
elephants, buffaloes, hippos, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas, antelopes. . . .
The authorities of Burkina Faso and Niger, with the financial support of
the European Union (via GIZ, German equivalent of the French Agency)
Wildlife Angel has been entrusted with the task of recruiting 100
eco-guards, training them in anti-poaching techniques, equipping them and
organizing the protection of the area.

“The idea is to professionalize the fight against poaching: train
eco-guards, then team leaders and local instructors, Nigerian, Burkina
Faso, able to take over, to be autonomous,” says Serge Lopez, a former
soldier who founded the NGO after being upset by an encounter with a
rhinoceros mutilated by poachers and dying in a pool of blood.

A very different approach to that of African Parks, a South African society
that protects many African parks. “They have good results, but with a
little neocolonialist approach, type push yourself, you are not able, we
will show you, and they take full control of the park for twenty years,?
exposes Serge Lopez. ?Our methods are just as effective, but we prefer to
work with customary authorities, village chiefs, governments, local


The task of Wildlife Angel will not be obvious. Since last summer,
jihadists have begun to invest in eastern and south-eastern Burkina, to
attack gendarmeries, bush camps, truffle roads improvised explosives . . .
Result? Tourists fled, including trophy hunters. A respite for lions,
antelopes or buffaloes? Not necessarily.

“The jihadists have taken control of illegal gold panning in this area. In
return, they guarantee the local populations to hunt freely in all areas,
hunting, national parks, reserves, etc., reports Serge Lopez. And today,
nobody is able to tell us what is the wildlife situation on the spot,
nobody knows how many animals were slaughtered. Since about October, no
more traditional forest ranger is in the park. They escaped.”

While it is “out of the question” to send the Wildlife Angel trained
rangers to the area before the jihadist threat is eliminated, the training
has been strengthened accordingly. “We added modules, for example to raise
awareness of trapped animals or bodies: if our guys find an antelope or
another dead animal, it is no longer a question of touching them, they will
have to follow a procedure that will allow them to a grapple and a 4×4 to
return the animal, in case,” says Serge Lopez.


Despite the difficulties, Wildlife Angel is hopeful to succeed in its
mission. The NGO, which counts about ten trainers and about thirty
volunteers, already displays several successes with its table of hunting.
In 2016, for example, she trained ten rangers in a Namibian private reserve
with more than 100 rhinos. “Three years later, no animal was wounded or
killed,” says Serge Lopez.

It also reports “good results” since the formation of the twenty eco-guards
of the “feline brigade” in 2016, in the park W in Niger, and that of 24
other eco-guards in 2017 in Burkina, where a illegal camp counting
thousands of gold miners threatened wildlife. In 2017, the NGO also trained
rangers in the Democratic Republic of Congo to protect reintroductions in
the forest of bonobos recovered from the markets of Kinshasa, where they
are sold as pets destined for China.

Wildlife Angel’s mission to Niger and Burkina is expected to last through
2019, and possibly beyond. “The representative of the European Union that I
saw in Burkina in February told me he wants it to be sustainable, at least
four or five years,” says Serge Lopez. And the NGO is more and more

Recent calls for help include Comoe National Park in Cote d’Ivoire and
Boubandjida Park in Cameroon where 250 elephants were slaughtered in a few days in 2012 by janjaweed militiamen in Sudan.

Serge Lopez is delighted, but admits “a problem of ability to answer: we
need to train more people to our method, it takes time. “And money. The
NGO, which makes no profit and operates thanks to donations from
individuals and a little corporate sponsorship, would like the French
Development Agency to grant it some day funds.