Ghana's Regionen - Nord Region

Wechiau Hippo Park

Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary

The Wechiau community is primarily inhabited by the Lobi people although the land belongs to the Wala people and the Lobi compensate the Wala chief for use of the land. Established in 1998, the sanctuary is designated as a park and runs 40km long and 1.5km wide along each bank of Ghana’s Black Volta River. It houses 17 villages, 10 schools and 2 health clinics. The Calgary Zoo became involved in 1996. The Zoo performed a feasibility study which was completed in 1998 and first tourist visitors arrived in 1999. Community trust was built, among other things, through official exchange visits between 3 Wechiau Chiefs and the CEO and the President of the Calgary Zoo . Leadership exchanges began in 1999 and occur every 2 to 3 years. The project has been financially self-sufficient since 2005. The project was awarded a 2008 Equator Initiative prize.

The location is remote and access roads are in poor condition; journey by road to Ghana’s capital, Accra, takes a full day. Until the Sanctuary project began, there were no schools in the community. There were also no opportunities for gainful employment and training in skills such as English is hard due the lack of electricity so people can work in the day and study at night. Approximately 10,000 people live within the sanctuary.

Hippopotamus are an endangered species in Ghana. While they were once numerous, the hippo population in Western Africa has severely dwindled. One estimate cites the population of hippos in West Africa is roughly 5% of total population of hippos in Eastern and Southern Africa.

The sanctuary’s hippo population varies between 15 and 17 hippos. Hippos graze on land but spend most of their time in water. While they are not carnivorous, they do attack those they perceive as invading their territory. For humans this means that fishermen’s boats are bumped around or knocked over and on land they will exhibit hostile behavior. As a result, humans will poach the hippos in order to eliminate the threat to their livelihood (i.e. the use of the river for fishing and the land for living). In addition, the Black Volta River is infected with the guinea worm parasite making the water hazardous to humans.

Villagers moved all farms and fishing camps two kilometers away from the river. Since 2004, the Calgary Zoo has a staff member living on-site year-round as a Sanctuary Advisor providing technical support (to read Donna Sheppard’s updates click here.

Approximately a dozen full-time jobs have been created in the Sanctuary. These jobs include: guides, park wardens, cooks and maintenance staff. Improvements to the area include a village and eco-tourism centre and 2 new primary schools. A high school scholarship program was created with the first graduate in 2008. As of November 2009, there are 15 high school scholars with an additional 5 on waiting list, water boreholes have been built in each of the 17 communities. 546 solar lights have been installed (over a 4 year period). 183 of the solar light recipient families were surveyed and the primary benefit being reported is education, specifically, the ability to study at night.

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