The West African Sitatunga Group (WASG) is a coalition of organizations working to conserve the waterbuck or sitatunga (Tragelaphus spekei) across its range in West Africa. The sitatunga is a species of African antelope that lives in wetlands and swamps and can weigh up to 100 kg.
Supported at its inception by the Calgary Zoo (Canada), this network now includes 11 organizations spread across Ghana, Togo and Benin. The WASG’s raison d’être is based on the fact that the sitatunga is an antelope species that is difficult to observe in the wild, which complicates its ecological monitoring and ecotourism development. Moreover, despite its status as a species of minor concern (LC) according to the IUCN, the level of local threats to the sitatunga is particularly high in West Africa. Indeed, it is the last big game of the coastal regions, which makes it an animal particularly sought after by poachers. In addition, its natural habitat, which is made up of relics of gallery forests, swamps and flood plains, is subject to strong anthropic pressures due to the extension of the agro-piscicultural front and urbanization.
These characteristics are sufficient to make the West African sitatunga populations a species with specific conservation challenges. This justifies the present strategy of the network to promote the convergence of means, energies and intelligence in order to strengthen the capacities of its members and to lead a common advocacy for the species in the sub-region. To achieve this, the WASG has already organized 3 workshops (2 in Benin and 1 in Ghana), and 2 exchange visits (Ghanaians in Benin and Beninese and Togolese in Ghana).
Planned to be organized in 2020, a 4th WASG workshop could not be held due to the COVID 19 pandemic and the closure of borders. Until then, members’ travel was exclusively by road for budgetary and ecological reasons. Thus, after a relatively long period of quasi-inactivity between 2019 and 2021, and thanks to the easing of travel restrictions, it was important for WASG members to get together.
It is within this framework that, with the support of PPI, the 4th meeting of the network was organized in Benin on January 26 and 27, 2022 at the CREDI-NGO premises. About ten organizations were able to take part (including 3 new ones). At the end of this meeting, the main results recorded were:
– The sharing of available information and actions undertaken by the members of the network for the sustainable conservation of Sitatunga ;
– The evaluation of the level of execution of the action plan 2018-2020 ;
– The strategic rapprochement with the IUCN Antelope Specialist Group through an online exchange with Mr. Philippe CHARDONNET its co-chair;
– The development and validation of the 2022-2023 action plan.
Also since January and in accordance with its action plan, an ad hoc committee has been set up to lead the three major projects of the WASG, namely:
– Identify and mobilize new potential members in the Sitatunga’s range in West Africa (notably Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal);
– Formalize the network;
– Contribute to the revision of the IUCN status of the West African sitatunga populations (currently least concern).