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Safaridude

Pendjari National Park, Benin - January 2015

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inyathi

@@Safaridude Très intéressant Pendjari ressemble à un endroit merveilleux

 

Inspired in part by the arrival of this fascinating report and my impending return to Chad I’ve decided to get on and find some more buffalo photos to post, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. It is great to see amidst all the doom and gloom about wildlife that (as with Zakouma) there are still parks outside of Eastern and Southern Africa that are still home to good populations of big game. I hope this first report on Pendjari will inspire others to visit this little known park and perhaps lead to other reports on Benin.

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jeremie

@@Safaridude I would be interested to know the main diferencies between typical safaris in Eastern and Southern Africa compared to Benin. By diferencies I mean tracking possibilities, densities of animals, etc

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Safaridude

Elephant – The elephants in Pendjari are classified as savanna elephant. They appear to possess a hint of forest elephant (a separate subspecies found in the Congo Basin), however, in that their tusks are fairly straight and their ears appear to be small and rounded (am I imagining that last part?). I saw small family groups every time we went northward toward the Pendjari River. A group or two were seen near Mare Bali as well. This is the best-protected and most extensive elephant population in West Africa. There is ivory poaching in the WAP complex, but it is difficult to assess the extent. The elephants we encountered appeared relaxed, but generally they have a reputation for being cheeky. Local drivers and guides are petrified of them.

 

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Lion – Just about everybody who visits Pendjari Lodge stays for either one or two nights. I stayed for six. Just about everybody who stayed at Pendjari Lodge during my stay saw lions. I didn’t. Lions are not an uncommon sight in Pendjari, and I was simply unlucky. Male lions in this part of the world do not grow full manes, and adult males can look immature. One evening, a German family staying at Pendjari Lodge saw a male lion attempting to hunt buffalo near Mare Fogou. The father in the family was recounting the action at dinner, and I asked, already knowing the answer, if the male lion had a full mane. He answered in broken English, “no, in fact, he, uh, how do you say, uh, he, uh looked like he was f***ed up.” The line of the trip…

 

Leopard, cheetah, wild dog – For some reason, West Africa isn’t known as a leopard hot spot. It is surprising that there are such few sightings of leopard in a well-protected area like Pendjari with lots of potential prey and adequate cover. A guide who operates out of Nati told me he has only seen leopard once in all his years of coming to Pendjari. Cheetahs are seen a few times a year. In fact, Pendjari Lodge’s Facebook page contains some recent photos of cheetahs. Three wild dogs were seen by a guide a week before my arrival, but they are extremely, extremely rare, and they roam the entire WAP complex. Pendjari is really the last stronghold for West African cheetah and wild dog.

 

Other mammals – I had a couple of oribi sightings and several red-flanked duiker sightings (no photo of these attractive duikers though). Primates seen include olive baboon and patas monkey. Hippos can be seen at Mare Bali and Mare Sacrée. Hyenas were heard but not seen.

 

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Edited by Safaridude

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jeremie

Really interesting information about wild dogs. This is the first time I have heard about wild dogs survival in the WAP complex. So exciting.

About the elephants, I have seen few days ago a MIKE report showing alarming poaching rates in the WAP complex. I do not remember where to find it.

I have found these reports on the web:

http://www.cites.org/sites/default/files/eng/com/sc/65/Inf/E-SC65-Inf-01.pdf

http://cites.org/sites/default/files/i/news/2015/WWD-PR-Annex_MIKE_trend_update_2014_new.pdf

 

So unlucky you did not see any lion.

Edited by jeremie

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Rwenzori

I hope that APN is considering to take over the managment of at least part of the WAP ecosystem, I've read too that elephant poaching is on the increase there and probably the populations of many other species are already under their natural level if the park is so underfunded as it seems.

There are many well-managed reserves in southern and eastern Africa (and currently central Africa thanks to APN and WCS) but almost none in western part of the continent; this problem has to be addressed soon if we want to preserve the wildlife of western Africa.
The great elephant census is scheduled to take place even in the WAP ecosystem so I hope that it will bring to the park the attention it needs.
The biggest difference I see between west african elephants and the other savanna elephants is the head shape but I should have to analyze the skulls to assess to how different they are. West african eles have also been regarded as a separate species in the past.
Edited by Rwenzori

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Safaridude

Birding – Being around so many mammal species that have evolved differently from their cousins in East and Southern Africa, it is initially surprising to see that most of the birds occurring in Pendjari also occur in East and Southern Africa. That is until you remember that birds can, uh, fly!

 

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Saddle-billed stork

 

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Spur-winged goose

 

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Tawny eagle

 

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Senegal coucal

 

Quasi-West African specials in Pendjari include black crowned crane, Abyssinian ground-hornbill, Abyssinian roller, red-throated bee-eater and vinaceous dove. I say “quasi-West African” because all five occur in Ethiopia and Uganda as well.

 

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Abyssinian ground-hornbill

 

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Abyssinian roller

 

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Vinaceous dove

 

True West African specials I encountered include Senegal parrot (a brilliant West African version of Meyer’s parrot, but no photo), blue-bellied roller and long-tailed glossy starling. Plus, I am fairly certain I saw an endemic West African snake-eagle in flight: either the short-toed snake eagle or Beaudouin’s snake-eagle.

 

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Blue-bellied roller

 

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Long-tailed glossy starling

 

 

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Kitsafari

@@Safaridude that is a stunning looking roan. very handsome.

 

the korrigum looks almost like the topi in colouring and horns (at least the ones i see in your photos) - is it just physical differences or behavourial differences as well?

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wilddog

Fascinating report @@Safaridude on such a rarely visited area. We are very lucky that we have some seriously intrepid and determined members on this site that investigate these areas and report back to us all.

 

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and photographs.

 

Love the Abyssinian Roller and the Roan.

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Safaridude

@@Kitsafari

 

With respect to the korrigum, I think it's mainly the physical differences. To my knowledge, there are no real behavioral differences.

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Safaridude

Logistics – Traveling to Cotonou is easier than most people think. Air France flies the Paris-Cotonou route four times a week. Driving from Cotonou to Pendjari can be an all-day affair – more sensible to attempt it over two days by stopping overnight in Natitingou as I did (On the way back from Pendjari to Cotonou, I stayed overnight in Dassa-Zoumé). There are many safari operators based out of Natitingou, but they appear to specialize in tourists who come, by car or even by bus, from Cotonou or elsewhere to Nati, and then decide at the last minute to spend a day or two in Pendjari. What I needed was one proper vehicle from Cotonou to Nati to Pendjari, with enough jerry cans of fuel (the nearest fueling station is 60 km outside the park entrance at Batia) and English and French speaking guides (French is the official language in Benin. Very few Beninese speak English.)

 

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A typical scene in Natitingou

 

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Natitingou

 

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Cotton field just outside the park

 

Luckily, Jolinaiko Eco Tours solved all my problems. Ben turned out to be an outstanding, safe driver with a sweet disposition; Boris was knowledgeable in ecology and cultural aspects of West Africa, as well as being an excellent English speaker; and the vehicle performed well. http://www.joli-ecotours.com

 

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Boris (left) and Ben

 

There are other savanna parks in West Africa worthy of mention: Mole in Ghana; Niokolo-Koba in Senegal; Nazinga in Burkina Faso; and Waza in Cameroon (though Cameroon is technically not in West Africa). But all of them are in some sort of disarray at the moment, and none of them have facilities remotely comparable to Pendjari Lodge in terms of ease of booking, comfort and simple bush luxury. http://www.pendjari-lodge.com

 

Alain Botton, a retired French physician, and his wife Marie own and manage Pendjari Lodge. They fell in love with the park after several visits and decided to make a go of it, building the lodge a few years ago. The lodge caters to self-drivers (the lodge does not provide vehicles or drivers/guides) and offers optional meals. It is an eccentric place for sure, with traditional Meru-styled tents, modern and old-fashioned furniture mixed together and a metal shipping container-cum outdoor kitchen. It goes without saying that the food served out of that unconventional kitchen is French and fine. There is an artificial waterhole visible from the mess area where various ungulate species as well as elephants come to water.

 

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Pendjari Lodge's mess area (waterhole in the background)

 

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Classic Meru-style tent

 

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Inside

 

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Fish for dinner tonight

 

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Dining area at night

 

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Busy lodge waterhole

 

I stayed at an out-of-this-world boutique luxury hotel called Maison Rouge in Cotonou. There are serviceable hotels in Natitingou and Dassa-Zoumé, two towns located between Cotonou and Pendjari. I stayed at Hotel Bourgogne in Nati and Jeco Hotel in Dassa-Zoumé.

 

Other Practicalities of a Pendjari safari

 

The best time to visit Pendjari is from December to May. The rains cease in October/November, and the authorities burn some areas of the park soon thereafter. By mid-January, most seasonal waterholes are drying up, forcing the game to concentrate along permanent water sources. The aforementioned Harmattan winds blow from December to February. The Harmattan winds are a blessing in disguise, as they cool Pendjari. When the winds lift in March, apparently it is as if someone turns on the oven. The advantages of a March/April safari, if you can stand the heat, are that the game gets very concentrated and the air is clear of Harmattan dust. During my six-day stay, I only experienced one overly hazy day due to Harmattan. Otherwise, the haziness was comparable to, say, a typical September day in Zambia when there are nearby bush fires. The afternoons were hot, but the mornings were comfortably cool, requiring a fleece jacket.

 

It must be said here that photography is a challenge in the tall grass environment of Pendjari. Even after a burn, some long stalks of the dominant Andropogon grass stand unscathed and erect, impairing visibility. While this can be an annoyance, I find the rewards of the peering photos more than compensate. Some of the safari vehicles from Natitingou are equipped with ludicrously tall, raised viewing seats in the back. To me, the extreme height of the seats looked potentially dangerous.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the trip was how quickly I fell in love with the country of Benin. Cotonou is all hustle and bustle (with so many helmeted motorcycle riders around, the first morning in Cotonou I thought I was having a Star Wars Stormtrooper hallucination), but the rest of the country is frozen in time. I found the Beninese to be kind and gentle, peacefully living out their mostly agricultural livelihoods without much fanfare. Aside from the hilariously aggressive customs officials (looking for some “chai”, as they would say in East Africa), my every encounter with a Beninese was positive.

 

With all other West African savanna parks in various stages of destruction, Pendjari National Park offers the last glimpse of this specialized biome. The importance of Pendjari cannot be overstated; the loss of Pendjari is not an option. That a park with such specialties and importance can be so easily and safely visited is remarkable. Though the density of game is not comparable to the best of East and Southern Africa (I would say the density is more comparable to the miombo environs of East and Southern Africa), there are fascinating oddities to keep the keen students of nature engrossed. I, for one, plan on going back.

 

My last night at Pendjari Lodge, I was paid an ultimate compliment by a Frenchman. “Do you enjoy foie gras? If you do, I will share my last can with you. I have some dessert wine to go with it too.” “Oui oui”, with a silly grin was my response to Alain. It was perfection: the finest French food and wine; a herd of buffalos watering below; a warm, starlit night beginning to be cooled by a hint of Harmattan. “Je suis Benin! Je suis Pendjari!”

Edited by Safaridude

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Safaridude

More photos from Pendjari

 

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Warthog

 

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Roan flehmen response

 

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Bull elephant

 

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Woolly-necked stork at Mare Bali

 

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Western kob

 

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A very old roan bull

 

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Buffalo

 

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Western hartebeest in the Harmattan haze

Edited by Safaridude

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Marks

A brilliant TR, which I was lucky enough to devour in one sitting (if only I could have devoured some of that cuisine, as well!). Thanks for sharing everything. I found the familiar-yet-different mammals quite fascinating.

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Gregor

Very nice and interesting TR. I really hope this park gets good management and protection.

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twaffle

Thank you Safaridude, I very much enjoyed this glimpse into Pendjari.

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egilio

Wild dogs seen! That's hopeful :)

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Game Warden

Fantastic report @@Safaridude into a park which not many of us will venture. I really enjoyed the logistical post of the report, as it shows not only the passion and friendliness of your driver and guide but of your French hosts. I linked some Nigerian friends to this report and he said that many involved in Yankari know Pendjari well... perhaps Yankari could be the next port of call?

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Zim Girl

Brilliant trip report, Pendjari looks like a really interesting proposition. Thank you for all the logistics details.

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Kitsafari

what an enjoyable TR, as usual @@Safaridude. Fois Gras for dinner and dessert wine to savour - how much better can it get in the bush?

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Safaridude

Thank you all for your kind comments.

 

@@Game Warden - Wow, I haven't even thought of Yankari. Now, I must look it up.

 

Aside from some level of elephant poaching, at least the Pendjari National Park portion of WAP is in excellent shape. There is hardly any meat poaching on the Benin side, as the locals generally eschew game meat (other than an odd guinea fowl or two being sold on the streets, game meat is apparently pretty much non-existent). Let's hope it stays that way.

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graceland

Echo the above, a most enjoyable read of a safari destination I'd not heard about. Great photos; and who'd think there would be a menu posted ala "cafe style" in french.

 

Thanks for sharing, and the logistics. An immersion french safari.

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Kwizera

Safaridude gave a good picture of the Pendjari National Park. More information to plan your stay in the Park or around in the Atacora region you can find on http://la-maison-pendjari.jimdo.com/english/ .

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Sangeeta

Thank you for adding the logistical details, @@Safaridude. You're correct - with the right help, it does not sound too complicated after all.

 

I loved the Menu du Jour as well :D Haha, echoing @@graceland here on the cafe style French immersion safari. Who knew that there'd be proper board with that typical French handwriting in the middle of Pendjari!

 

What an informative glimpse into a new area for so many of us - I'd love to see your FULL antelope list somewhere on ST, now that you're adding them so rapidly.

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pault

@@Safaridude. Very late to this one, but sat down and gobbled all this up in one sitting. What an amazing place and it's quite a find since who knew it was so easy to get there and get around? Great photographs of a lot of special creatures. Thanks for showing us this wonderful place.

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