“Growing up in Saint-Louis on the Senegal river delta, I used to play with birds, feeding, chasing and imitating them. I’ve always been in love with them. They’re the reason I do what I do. My favourite is the ruff – its shape, its colour and how it flies together in groups.”
Being a bird
An agronomy and environmental sciences graduate, Ibrahima Gueye heads up the wetlands department in Senegal’s National Parks Authority, acting as focal point for the Ramsar and other international conventions. He’s also responsible for MAVA projects in the Senegal Delta and the Saloum Delta Biosphere Reserve.
It’s a critical role. Senegal’s coastal wetlands, threatened by overfishing, poor infrastructure planning, pollution and climate change, are vital not only for local livelihoods but also wintering and migratory birds – such as Scopoli’s shearwater – on the East Atlantic flyway.
“I found my passion for bird conservation when I was warden of Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary. We can learn a lot from studying books but what I really know about wetlands, I learnt from the people and communities in Djoudj whose lives are intimately linked with wetlands.”
For the common good
A typical month includes a lot of institutional and administrative work but Ibrahima sees his most important role as engaging local communities.
“Making sure local people participate in conservation is the only way we’ll succeed. More than half the work we do relies on volunteers, so it’s vital they benefit.”
Volunteers are trained to use field guides, telescopes and binoculars, and identify different bird species so they can help with survey work, in particular the International Waterbird Census which happens every January.
In the Saloum Delta, most protected areas are community-led, run by fishers and farmers who use conservation techniques to try to improve catches and harvests. Success is inspiring more and more local authorities and communities and to turn to the Ministry for help in establishing community nature reserves.
“Conservation doesn’t always bring quick or easy rewards. It’s like planting a tree knowing you probably won’t eat its fruit but you do it anyway – for your children.”
Something Ibrahima is particularly proud of are the Ministry’s schemes enabling women living in and around protected areas to develop green micro-enterprise.
One MAVA scheme which he is coordinating has helped women open shops that sell biogas, reducing pressure on trees and mangroves used for cooking fuel. And another has trained women in remote communities to grow organic vegetables, improving village food security.
“Today they’re self-financing and self-sufficient, working together in professional groups. It’s very satisfying. In Senegal, we say if you reach a woman, you reach the whole community – they’re the best communicators and educate our children.”
Making new friends
Ibrahima recently helped secure €1.2 million from Luxembourg and the EU to support wetland restoration and combat agricultural pollution threatening Djoudj, and to strengthen the protected area network in the Senegal and Saloum Deltas. With MAVA closing in 2022, gaining support like this from other international partners is vital. And as climate change worsens, working with other Ministries to maintain wetland ecosystem services and improve governance is also critical.
“What I’ve learnt is that conservation success relies on collaboration, not just within Senegal but across West Africa. Nature doesn’t know about borders. I’ll keep fighting until wetlands are a priority in national policy.”
Find out more about how Ibrahima and the Senegalese National Parks Authority are delivering MAVA’s action plan on Halting disturbance of breeding and wintering shorebirds in priority coastal wetlands.