Giraffes in Niger's Kouré village.
During our travels to Niger for the Community of Conservation project, we were lucky enough to visit a few amazing national parks and see some incredible African animals! One of our first stops on the trip was W National Park. A protected reserve for native plants and animals of West Africa, this park spreads over three countries: Niger, Benin, and Burkina Faso.
The park got its name from the “w” shape the Niger River makes as it flows through the entire reserve. Staff from our partner institution, National Museum of Niger Boubou Hama, and the four of us from Chicago piled into a couple four-wheel-drive vehicles and explored the back roads of the reserve. The driver of the car I was in LOVED Phil Collins, so while on safari we karaoked to his greatest hits album for hours on end! Not only was this a fun bonding experience, but it also provided some great background music for all the animals we spotted.
An elephant in W National Park.
We also had a chance to visit Kouré, a village in the southwest region of Niger that has the last herds of West African giraffes. The U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Niger, Bisa Williams, joined us for our trip to Kouré.
Thanks to conservation efforts from worldwide organizations, the Niger government and local residents, giraffe numbers have bounced back from near extinction. It was an unbelievable experience to observe the giraffes so closely in this park! We saw three separate herds of about 50–60 total giraffes ranging from young calves to towering males.
A herd of giraffes
Visiting both parks and seeing these magnificent creatures firsthand not only fulfilled a lifelong dream but also reinvigorated my passion for conservation education!
Katie Hawkins is Lincoln Park Zoo's student programs coordinator. Her trip—and the entire outreach project—is generously funded by the American Association of Museums and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Museums & Community Collaborations Abroad (MCAA) program.