Ranch Nazinga, West Africa - There are many stories about how Ranch de Gibier de Nazinga came to be. The one thing they have in common is that Canadian assistance - or intervention, depending on the storyteller - played a part.
South of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, and near the town of Po, Ranch Nazinga is easily reachable by jeep. In 1979, the son of Canadian missionaries started the ranch in an attempt to preserve not only the wildlife but also the vegetation. Local people unsuccessfully farming the land were paid to relocate and were given a permit to hunt the wildlife once a year. The idea was to preserve the vegetation and give the animals a chance to roam freely and multiply. In 1989 the ranch, by then a money-making operation, was taken over by the government.
Ranch Nazinga is a birdwatcher's paradise. Blinds have been built to make observing more comfortable. There are fish eagles, colourful bee-eaters and close-to-extinct Abyssinian ground hornbills, as well as varieties of doves and parrots, arrow-marked babblers, jacana and many more.
The ranch is open from December to July and worth the trip if you're in Burkina Faso. Instead of hotels, there are a number of individual bungalows with functioning bathrooms and, at erratic hours, electricity.
Occasionally, an elephant takes a shortcut through the back of the property; guests are warned always to be on the lookout. From the bar/restaurant you get a clear view of the river where the elephants bathe.
Chairs are set up outside. A sign warns "Stop Here. Space Reserved for the Elephants." Troops of baboons play in the trees, then run along in single file heading off on some mission.
Crocodiles are another reason to stay away from the river. They're not as easy to see as elephants; it's possible that once you notice them, it's too late.
Cob antelope are shy, but may be spotted back in the brush. Like African wildcat footprints, plenty of cob tracks show that they're around.
In the dry season, the locals set up controlled burns in the evenings. One man with a torch walks off into the bush, lighting the grasses as he goes. Others wait by the road with green brush to beat back any flames that get out of hand.
The burns, common throughout Burkina Faso, are supposed to prevent brush fires and they give the local men something to do and a little pocket money. But there's debate about disturbance to wildlife; the government is trying to stop them.
It's somewhat unnerving when you're at the ranch and the brush is burning close by. The sizzling of sap means the fire has caught in the trees and is becoming less controlled. So far, the ranch has escaped damage.
Worse is the rumour that at the north end of the ranch, trophy hunters pay big money to be guaranteed an elephant kill.
Providing elephants for zoos is another big money-maker. It's distressing to watch helicopters cut a young elephant out of the herd. After it's sedated by tranquilizer gun, the elephant is crated and shipped off to a new "home." At least these get to live.
The rationale is that money paid for the elephants helps preserve and run the ranch. The reality is that the money, up to CFA50,000, is paid to the government.
The big question is whether it's right to sacrifice one elephant every now and then in order to maintain the status quo. As long as the government is happy and the money keeps coming in, the ranch will continue.
If the hunting is stopped and the ranch closes, the land will revert to being over-farmed. Where will the animals go then?