Desert dangers force Niger tourism south

Thu Mar 11, 2010 7:35am EST
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By David Lewis

LAMANTIN ISLAND, Niger (Reuters) - Joel Sauze was just readying his new eco-lodge in southern Niger for its first visitors as soldiers in the capital blasted their way into the presidential palace and arrested the country's leader.

Reinforcing a view of Niger's perils, the country's latest coup could not have come at a more unfortunate time for the campsite-owner from France, who is attempting to play his part in restoring confidence in the local tourist industry.

It unnerved some of his guests, who delayed their visits to the island hotel in rugged bush 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of Niamey, the capital.

But he is undeterred. The coup leaders have overseen a swift return to calm in Niamey, and Sauze is banking on the fact Nomadic rebels and Islamist-linked gunmen and kidnappers have made no-go areas of much of Niger's north in his effort to lure visitors to his island retreat, in the south.

"We are trying to create something original, somewhere original," Sauze said at his lodge, sitting among baobab trees on a rocky outcrop protruding from the slow-moving Niger River.

Far from sites such as the spectacular dunes and mountains of the vast, northern Agadez region, Sauze concedes the harsh bush-country of the south may lack allure.

It could not compete with the teeming game parks of East Africa, even though elephants do occasionally play in the water nearby. The park is home to buffalo, antelope, a handful of lions, and an impressive collection of birds.

Nonetheless, he says, "(Niger's) south is interesting and unknown."   Continued...

<p>A Tuareg caravan travels north through a remote region of southern Niger in this July 4, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly/Files</p>