By Rosie Awori
Colonel Abagana was a gifted expert in wildlife and protected areas who worked tirelessly for the protection of wildlife habitats and sustainable management of biodiversity in Niger. Abagana strengthened the conservation of Niger’s wild fauna with unprecedented success, especially on the recovery of giraffes, elephants and many other species in the country, as well as continent-wide. He was also an accomplished researcher and was finalising a thesis on the socio-ecology and human dimensions of giraffes in the Reserve of Garabedji in Niger.
His career spanned more than two decades and at the time of his death he was the Coordinator of the Wildlife Corridors Project in Niger under the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Before this posting, he served as the Deputy National Director of National Parks and Wildlife Reserves in Niger. He was also the head of the Natural Forest Development Project and worked directly in the Fight Against Desertification of Tchirozérine area. He served as a member of the Niger delegation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Through that capacity, he also served on the CITES Standing Committee as a representative of Africa.
During the last CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP18) in Switzerland in 2019, Abagana successfully advocated the strengthening of protection of all five sub-species of African giraffes. This was a historic moment as giraffe population numbers continent-wide have been declining rapidly. Almost 40,000 giraffe specimens had been traded in the past decade leading up to the meeting and, without international trade restriction, this iconic species would have likely seen extinction in the wild.
As a member of Niger’s CITES delegation, Abagana was also an active participant in the campaign to strengthen the protection of African elephants from poaching, the ivory trade and the exports of live elephants to countries outside Africa. He and his country were actively involved in the African Elephant Coalition (AEC), a consortium of more than 30 African countries, that calls for tighter regulations on the trade in elephants and their parts.
Abagana was actively involved in the development plans of parks and reserves in Niger, such as the Gadabedji Wildlife Reserve. He encouraged public participation by involving local communities and providing information and ways to manage natural resources at a local level.
His death has robbed the wildlife community of a charismatic champion and many of his close colleagues have expressed their condolences and grief. Long-time colleague, Hédia Baccar from Fondation Franz Weber, a non-profit organisation that works directly with the AEC member states, was deeply shocked: “I will miss you. The AEC meetings will no longer be the same without you,” she said.
Dr. Patrick Omondi, the Director Biodiversity, Research and Planning at the Kenya Wildlife Service and also a long-time AEC stalwart, expressed his condolences in writing: “My deep condolences to the family of Ali Abagana, may his soul rest in eternal peace. To AEC colleagues let us pray for the family during this difficult time,” the message read.
Another fellow colleague in the AEC, Mali’s Colonel Major Bourama Nigate also expressed his sympathy and commiseration: “All my condolences for the family of Ali Abagana, May Allah the almighty and all merciful forgive his sins and welcome him into Jannat (paradise) and may his soul rest in peace.”
Ali Abagana leaves an enormous void but his contributions to conservation in Africa will not be forgotten. They will serve as an inspiration for many generations to come.
Rosie Awori is a Kenyan journalist and senior writer and corporate communications strategist at the Pan African Wildlife Conservation Network