Comoé National Park is a Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Zanzan and Savanes Districts of northeastern Côte d'Ivoire. It is the largest protected area in West Africa, with an area of 11,500 km2, and ranges from the humid Guinea savanna to the dry Sudanian zone. This steep climatic north-south gradient allows the park to harbour a multitude of habitats with a remarkable diversity of life. Some animal and plant species even find their last sanctuary in some of the different savanna types, gallery forests, riparian grasslands, rock outcrops or forest islands.
The park was initially added as a World Heritage Site due to the diversity of plant life present around the Comoé River, including pristine patches of tropical rain forest that are usually only found further south. As a well-eroded plain between two large rivers, the land in the area is home to relatively infertile soils and a moisture regime suitable to a richer biodiversity than surrounding areas. In 2003 it was added to the list of World Heritage Sites in Danger due to poaching, absence of management, overgrazing of the park by cattle, problems that intensified after the outbreak of the First Ivorian Civil War.
The steep climatic north-south gradient comprises a multitude of habitats containing a remarkable diversity of life, making it the most biodiverse savanna in the world, and ranges from the dry Sudanian zone to the comparatively humid Guinea Savanna. These habitats include for the most part different savannas, forest islands, gallery forests and riparian grasslands, thereby providing an ideal example of transitional habitats throughout various climatic zones. The Comoé river, flowing throughout Côte d'Ivoire also allowed for various habitats and plant associations normally found further south to exist in the park, like patches of dense gallery forest in the vicinity of the river. This variety of habitats throughout different zones and the vast area dedicated to the conservation of natural resources make it an ecological unit of particular importance and a UNESCO World heritage site.
Geomorphologically the park consists of large plains through which the Comoé River and its tributaries flow (Iringou, Bavé, Kongo). The Comoé river and its tributaries form the main drainage and the Comoé runs through the park for 230 kilometres, with watercourses also draining to the Volta in the east. There are also various permanent and semi permanent ponds distributed throughout the park, most of which dry out during the dry season. The soils are for the most part infertile and unsuitable for cultivation. Granite inselbergs also rise up to 600 metres within the park's area.
Comoé National Park has the most biodiverse savannah in the world and forms the northern limit for many animal species, like the yellow-backed duiker and bongo. There are a total of 135 mammal species in the park. This includes 11 species of primates like the olive baboon, green monkey, diana monkey, lesser spot-nosed monkey, Mona monkey, black and white colobus, white collared mangabey and chimpanzee. A total of 17 carnivore species are present, like the lion, leopard, giant pangolin, rock hyrax, spotted hyena and aardvark. There are also 21 species of artiodactyl present in the park including hippopotamus, bushpig, sitatunga, warthog, buffalo, kob, red-flanked duiker, bushbuck, waterbuck, roan antelope and oribi. Threatened mammal species include the African elephant, wild dogs and possibly one of the last large populations of chimpanzee left in the Ivory Coast.
There are over 500 species of birds, of which roughly 20% are inter-African migratory birds and another 5% palearctic migratory birds. Some prominent bird species include the Denham's bustard, yellow-casqued hornbill, brown-cheeked hornbill, hammerkop, black-winged stilt, various raptors, four of the six West African stork species and five vulture species. The park also contains 36 out of the 38 of the iconic bird species found in Sudo-Guinean savannas.
The Comoé river and its tributaries contain at least 60 different species of fish and allow for an unusually high diversity of amphibian species for a savannah habitat with 35 described species. There are also a total of 71 described reptile species, of which three are crocodiles: the dwarf crocodile (threatened), Nile crocodile and slender-snouted crocodile. The floodplains around the river create seasonal grasslands that are optimal feeding grounds for hippopotamus and migratory birds.
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