The Comoé National Park is a Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Zanzan District, North-eastern Côte d’Ivoire. It is the largest protected area in West Africa, with an area of 11,500 km2, and ranges from the humid Guinea savanna to the dry Sudanian zone. This steep climatic north-south gradient allows the park to harbour a multitude of habitats with a remarkable diversity of life. Some animal and plant species even find their last sanctuary in some of the different savanna types, gallery forests, riparian grasslands, rock outcrops or forest islands.
The park was initially added as a World Heritage Site due to the diversity of plant life present around the Comoé River, including pristine patches of tropical rain forest that are usually only found further south. As a well-eroded plain between two large rivers, the land in the area is home to relatively infertile soils and a moisture regime suitable to a richer biodiversity than surrounding areas. In 2003 it was added to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger due to poaching, absence of management, overgrazing of the park by cattle, problems that intensified after the outbreak of the First Ivorian Civil War.
The area around the Comoé National Park was historically always sparsely populated. Most likely due to the relative barenness of the soil, the presence of the river blindness disease around the Comoé river and the high density of Tsetse flies, which is a vector for sleeping sickness. In 1926 the area between the Comoé River and Bouna was declared “Refuge Nord de la Côte d’Ivoire”, which was enlarged later in 1942 and 53 to “Réserve de Faune de Bouna”, giving it some rudimentary protection. The area west of the Comoé river was added to the property on the 9th of February 1968 combined with an elevation to National Park status with an area of 11,500 square kilometres (4,400 sq mi), making it one of the 15 largest National Parks in the World and the largest in West Africa. In 1983 the park was pronounced a biosphere reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site, due to its unique biodiversity.
After the outbreak of the first Ivorian civil war the park was listed as a World Heritage Site in Danger in 2003, due to absence of management leading to poaching and overgrazing of the park by cattle. During the time between the two civil wars the park suffered greatly under intensive poaching. After the end of the Second Ivorian Civil War the park was able to recover again with the presence of the OIPR (park management) and the re-inauguration of the research station.
The Comoé National Park was listed as a World Heritage Site in Danger in 2003 mainly due to an increase in poaching caused by the lack of management after the outbreak of the first ivorian civil war. After the end of the Second Ivorian Civil War and the stabilisation of the region the wildlife authority agency OIPR (Office Ivorien des Parcs et Reserves) has resumed their work in the Comoé National Park. The OIPR applied to the Rapid Response Facility (RRF) for funding and was successful in being awarded a maximum grant of $30,000 to secure the park. The major challenges management faces are successful combating of poaching, reducing agricultural pressures and the renovation of the streets in the park for proper access control.
The main projects to combat these problems are the establishment of an efficient surveillance system in the park and close cooperation with local communities to reduce the pressures on the periphery of the park through participatory management and the establishment of sustainable income sources for the villagers.