Located in SE Sudan approximately 400km from Khartoum, Dinder National Park (NP) shares a border with Alatish NP in Ethiopia. This NP is falling into disrepair but has great potential. It is the closest wildlife reserve in Africa to Europe and has natural resources, wildlife and the history and culture of its tribal communities.
Dinder NP, stands at an altitude of about 500 m above sea level and whilst mostly flat, it nevertheless still has a diverse range of geographic features including gorges, cliffs, rock formations, watercourses and streams. The Gelego River that flows from Alatish NP, meets the Dinder River at Gelego Camp (home of Dinder's NP Headquarters). The Rahad River defines its northern boundary. Whilst these rivers are both seasonal they gather more water from their basins and further downstream, especially in the West of the NP, they form very large and wide permanent water ponds, locally called ‘maya’, where wildlife gathers.
Dinder NP is administered by a branch of the Sudan police called Sudan Wildlife Conservation General Administration (SWCGA). The SWCGA headquarters staff of about 90 people are based in offices at Gelego. SWCGA appears to report to two masters; the Ministry of Interior (Police) and the Ministry of Tourism, Antiquities and Wildlife but neither Ministry appears to have any other presence on the ground.
It is not known how the annual budget is defined or structured but generally Dinder NP appears to be run down and very under developed. Neither vision nor conservation strategy is readily visible on the internet.
Rangers / Scouts
Dinder NP is reported to have nearly 300 Rangers, a Grader, five tractors and 35 camels used by the Rangers for patrolling and a few boats. The 7 Land Cruiser trucks reported to be fitted with rocket launchers or cannon perhaps indicate a national security function as opposed to wildlife protection. The park has several miradors and a dense road network in the core area with most maya’s, but also has remote zones with hardly any roads. At many of the mayas, there is a camp for scouts with seasonal huts, a water pump, and in some cases additional infrastructure such as facilities for fishing. Mayas and their associated wildlife concentrations are thus guarded 24/7 throughout the dry season, and occasionally on camelback patrols in the wet season. Scouts are constantly rotated and spend at least half their time effectively patrolling the inner protected area in the park.
Management effort therefore appears to be focussed on the easily accessible, very small central area of the Park and around the Mayas whilst the remainder (majority?) of the NP that lies in more challenging areas with poor access, lacks attention. There is an urgent need to extend protection across the park and to enforce the law. The level of poaching activity and the presence of snares and traps is unknown. In addition to the destruction of woodland for charcoal and the encroachment of agriculture, it is highly likely that predators are being shot to protect cattle unlawfully grazing inside the park and prey wildlife is being taken for bushmeat. Every day that 'a blind eye' is turned to illegal activity makes it harder to enforce as community custom and practice becomes more established.
History and Cultural Assets
Dinder has a rich history and culture with historic villages, burial grounds, and indigenous sacred and an abundant variety of indigenous fauna and floras.
Communities are not engaged in, active or benefiting from tourism.
Vegetation in the park consists of thornbush savanna in the north and woodland in the south; along the riverbanks there are palm or gallery forests and swampy areas. Lions are regularly observed inside both Dinder and Alatish NP's and in their immediate surroundings, but rarely, if ever, further than 10km outside the park. Hyaenas are rarely encountered and then only at night but they are found across the entire NP. Elephant have not been seen for a long time but it is known that they migrate through Dinder and Alatish NP's. Spotted hyena and gazelle can also be found here but otherwise wildlife seem to under great strain.
Leopard is locally extinct but found in the adjacent Alatish NP. Tora hartebeest were last observed in 1999, and giraffe were last observed in 1983. These losses, may be partly due to climate and partly due to human influence. The loss of leopard may be due to the very intense poaching pressure on this particular species; there is a demand for leopard skin slippers throughout Sudan! Wildlife more often found includes includes reedbuck, roan antelope, bushbuck, oribi, waterbuck, greater kudu, dik-dik, buffalo, ostrich, black rhinoceros, jackal and occasionally cheetah. Despite its scarcity, the diversity of wildlife in Dinder NP is impressive. The prize here would be the return of thriving populations of these animals and a balanced ecosystem.
Dinder NP is very undeveloped. Its unpaved road network becomes impassable and can be dangerous due to floods between June to October. Roads are generally dirt and unsigned; even 'Guides' seem to get lost in the Park. There is little promotion or marketing and only a very small trickle of tourists visit each year. Tourist accommodation (huts to rent) is of a very poor quality and there are few services but plenty of mosquitoes. Prey densities are patchy except in 10km protected radius of HQ and around water sources such as rivers and waterholes.
Dinder NP does have an airport (or airstrip?) nearby at Galegu. It is not thought to be regularly used and is probably currently unsuitable for night operations which would be advantageous to support medical evacuation in an emergency. There is apparently a small Zoo at Dinder but otherwise local communities are not benefitting from tourism.
Barriers to conservation and ecotourism development
Country political and security risk. Following months of political uncertainty, civil disobedience and incidents of lethal violence against peaceful protestors, Omar al-Bashir was removed as President in April 2019. A civilian-led transitional government is now in place, and Sudan is in a period of transition towards elections in in 2023. The transitional governance arrangements have brought relative calm across Sudan, though there have been protests (primarily around fuel shortages and wheat prices). Further protests cannot be ruled out.
The UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) currently advise against all non essential travel to this part of Sudan and advises against all travel to within 20 km of the border with Ethiopia. This includes a large area of Dinder NP. It is important because the London insurance market takes its lead on insurable risk from the FCDO. Tourists would struggle to get the travel insurance that would be so important here. To the south east in Ethiopia, there are ongoing armed clashes in Tigray Regional State and a state of emergency remains in place. It is possible (but thought unlikely) that violence could spill over into Dinder NP but displaced refugees could become an issue. While attacks are mostly related to inter-ethnic disputes and foreigners have not been targeted, attacks can occur at any time with significant risk of being caught up in violence. Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Sudan (and Ethiopia). Attacks could be indiscriminate and include places visited by foreigners.
There is a lack of trans-boundary cooperation. The relationship with neighbouring Ethiopia is currently strained by the lack of agreement over the timescales to be taken to fill the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Development of Dinder NP presents an opportunity to use this as a catalyst for maintenance of peace. It could present a 'good news' story to the world and significantly improve both nations global standing.
Health. There is a high risk of malaria in the central and southern parts of Sudan and a risk of malaria in the rest of the country. The risk of Covid-19 and associated variants is high and the standards of medical care in Sudan do not meet those found in UK, Europe and parts of the Middle East.
Encroachment. The main threat to the park is livestock encroachment, poaching and in the longer term possibly agricultural encroachment. Human presence in the park is evident and is said to be most worrisome in the southern parts, bordering the Gumuz areas, where charcoal making is rife. A special threat to lions is indiscriminate killing, especially by nomadic herdsman and prime among them are the ‘Felata’, who are pastoralists originally from West Africa but now with Sudanese nationality. They are armed with modern and traditional weapons and spend several months per year inside the park, with their livestock. Illegal fires set by non-local nomadic grazers, poachers, and honey collectors are cited as among the chief threats to Dinder NP.
Agriculture. Techniques used are traditional and reflect a very inefficient use of land. Modern techniques using tractors and other mechanised systems are required. Regenerative Organic Agriculture should be promoted and implemented. Farmers may benefit through the creation of cooperatives sharing resources and with improved access to markets for the increased yield.
Firearms. Are widely carried in this part of Sudan, especially by the Pastrolists to protect their herds. Many of these firearms are unlicensed. They pose a direct threat to the NP's predators and to the NP Scouts. Automatic weapons are not required to protect animals. Firearms should be of a type that are fit for purpose and properly licensed. As a general rule, firearms should only be carried within the boundaries of the NP by Scouts or Rangers.
Conservation measures have grown organically within Sudan and the approaches adopted are no longer consistent with international best practice. The effectiveness of the protective arrangements within Dinder NP are also being hampered by the lack of resources, no clear strategy or plan and without the financial means to drive implementation over a period of years. The specialist knowledge and expertise required is probably available from national universities but otherwise international assistance is required.
The Law and its application. The Wildlife Act was last updated in 1986. Law enforcement is practiced through the anti poaching unit that is responsible for patrolling the wildlife areas. This unit is reported to be poorly trained and equipped and therefore largely ineffective. Enforcement in the park needs to be under pinned by clear law communicated to and understood by the communities and a well trained judiciary that applies the law in a consistent manner.
Hunting. The law prohibits hunting in national parks and game reserves. Hunting may be permitted in game reserves only under the authority of a special permit issued by the Director of the SWCGA. It also prohibits residence, cultivation, grazing of domestic animals and felling of trees in national parks and game reserves. Any other human activities within protected areas are prohibited by Wildlife Act. If wildlife stocks are to recover to a level that will provide attractions for Tourism, a total ban on hunting in the NP is required.
Finance. Whilst the good intent of the Sudan Government is clear, it has been a willing signatory to a number of international conservation agreements, recent events have driven its principle focus to consolidating peace and rebuilding the nation. The required investment in the National Parks is simply not available. Covid -19 is placing huge strain on charitable funding that would otherwise normally be available for wildlife conservation projects. International donor government funding is also being significantly reduced. Further, Sudan has until recently been under US sanction and its development is still constrained by lack of access to foreign exchange. Finance therefore presents a real challenge.
Stakeholders. No evidence has been found that suggests proper and effective stakeholder engagement has been undertaken nor is there evidence of an active ongoing engagement or feedback process with the key stakeholders within and adjacent to the NP.
Education. The communities, especially the farmers and pastrolists, appear to have no understanding of the damage and impacts of their activities within the NP. This can be corrected through education supported by targeted community development programs so they learn to value the wildlife and associated ecosystems in the NP.
Land Use and Livelihoods. No evidence has been found of land use, land change or livelihood mapping. This is a very important tool to deconflict activities within and around the NP and as a tool to assist development of strategy.
Poverty. A multiplicity of tribes are reported to live within communities around the NP: Masaleat, Burgo, Dago, Fellata, Houss, and Salahab. These communities are reliant on subsistence farming techniques and are struggling daily for life's essentials. Their problems are compounded by civil unrest, climate change, growing desertification (drought and flooding) and an increasing population present further pressures on land use and the push of communities into the NP.
Marketing. The diversity of wildlife in Dinder NP is impressive but it remains a 'hidden gem'. The lack of advertising is in part due to poor access and the paucity of facilities for tourists or researchers.
Telecommunications. The camp has a GSM tower for the Zain cellphone network. There is intermittent coverage in the NP. Otherwise communications between the headquarters and patrols (cellphone, radio, satellite or 'runner') are unknown.
Power. The NP headquarters at Gelego has permanent solar and generator power. It also has running water. Otherwise most of the villages do not have access to power.
There is an opportunity to develop Dinder NP and introduce world class international ecotourism bringing hard earned tourist dollars to the local and national economies. Cross border tourism with Alatish NP would benefit Sudan and Ethiopia and cooperation here could be first step towards repairing damaged relationships and safeguarding regional peace. Communities surrounding the NP must learn to respect its boundaries and value and protect the wildlife. They must directly benefit through the provision of programs that deliver what communities say they need as opposed to what the well intended think they should have. Benefits would ultimately rise upwards to Regional, State and National Government, across the tourism sector in Khartoum and elsewhere.
Develop Dinder National Park then the tourists (and their dollars) will come.
Note: The above is an opinion formed through a desktop review of Dinder NP. The focus is 'current status' as opposed to detailed recommendations required to 'fix it'. The assumptions and conclusions made above require validation on the ground.