What is Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary?
Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary (WCHS) is a 100% community run conservation and eco-tourism site in the Upper West Region of Ghana.
What is it like to visit Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary?
The sanctuary has lots to offer visitors with a river safari to spot some of the 22 hippos or a haven for birdwatchers or just relax while your boatman gently paddles the boat along the Black Volta river.
You can stay overnight at the Talowana tourist lodge or sleep on the lodge roof or in a hippo hide in the trees. The accommodation is rustic with refreshing bucket baths and does have electricity. A new tourist lodge was opened in August 2016 which provides more comfortable accommodation. One of the rooms is illustrated opposite and you can watch a video of the opening on the WCHS Facebook page. There are local guides employed by the sanctuary to take you the short distance from the lodge to the river for the safari canoe trip, or take you an a walking tour to point out the birds, plants and other animals. You can visit a local traditional village community and take part in the local dancing and singing. Local crafts are on sale of clay hippos, wood carvings, textiles and baskets.
Local cooks can prepare traditional meals, or you can bring your own food. Visiting the Wechaiu Community Hippo Sanctuary you will find a warm welcome and Learn about its importance to the conservation of this area. It is an area of extreme poverty with the main income coming from subsistence farming with the comparatively recent introduction organic shea nut harvesting,for the cosmetic industry, providing additional income for 1,400 women. Tourism is an important additional sources of income for the community providing employment for approximately 50 people as rangers, boatmen, tour guides, cooks, accommodation caretakers and a site manager.
What is the Background to the Sanctuary?
Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary was established in 1998 and is managed by a board of traditional leaders and chiefs and representatives from the 17 local communities rather than the more usual government run reserves. The ‘local community’ consists of 720 dwellings housing, 10,268 people (including 5620 children). The communities comprise four ethnic groups, each with distinct languages: Wala (or Wechegee), Birifor (or Lobi), Hausa and Dagaabe. The Wala settled in the area in the 17th Century and have customary rights to the land whereas the other three ethnic groups do not. Islam and Traditional African religion are the predominant belief systems, with a smaller number of Christians.
The sanctuary is an example of a community based natural resource management model, which has the dual goal of biodiversity protection and poverty alleviation. The natural environment of the hippopotami is protected by prohibitions on farming, bush-burning, hunting, cutting of plants and trees, vehicle access and fishing enforced by the sanctuary rangers combined with creating alternative livelihoods for people and environmental education.
The women, referred to above, who harvest the shea nuts are organised in a local cooperative supported by the Savannah Fruits Company. In 2015 a shea butter processing plant was established at Wechiau with funding from Calgary Zoo and a Andrea Brussa (a Calgary philanthropist) which is a big step forward for the local economy. Watch an extract of a video produced by Dreamware Media team (sponsored by Calgary Zoo) of the opening of the shea butter processing plant.
You can read more about the sanctuary from following their Facebook site on the right, or reading the following papers:
Ten years of adaptive community-governed conservation: evaluating biodiversity protection and poverty alleviation in a West African hippopotamus reserve; Donna J. Sheppard, Axel Moehrenschlager, Jana M. McPherson, and John J. Mason, Environmental Conservation 37(3):270–282 © Foundation for Environmental Conservation2010
Perceived Benefits and Sacrifices of a Community Resource Management Area in Ghana; Brianne Labute, Ashley Coulter, Llanavis Davies, Devon Clark, Cody Harman, Shannon West, Research report Department of Recreation and Tourism Management at Vancouver Island University.
We are grateful to Donna Sheppard (Calgary Zoo) and R.Y.Abudulai Issahaku (Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary) for supplying many of the photographs displayed on this website.