Wildlife is one of the tourism features of Bauchi State. The state hosts the popular Yankari Games Reserve, which is the greatest and most notable forest that has different species of wild animals in Nigeria. And it attracts tourists from within and outside the country who go there to entertain themselves.
The reserve is situated in Mainamaji village of Alkaleri local government area of Bauchi, which is 110 kilometres away from the state capital. It covers 2,244 km hectares of land. A visit to the forest by our correspondent revealed that the place is still popular among the people as men, women, youths, students and children patronise the reserve on a daily basis.
But the questions are: Why do people leave their towns, states and countries to visit Yankari in Bauchi even though there are zoos and other parks in their places? Is it because Yankari has animals in large numbers than other places? And how many different species of animals could be found there?
General manager of the Bauchi State Tourism Board, Alhaji Muazu Adamu, who oversees the forest of Yankari, responded to the questions. He said people liked to go there because of its rich variety of wild animals. According to him, there are more than 50 species of mammals, including lions, leopards, elephants, antelopes, spotted and striped hyenas and jackals. Others are monkeys such as Patas monkeys, Tantalus monkeys as well as baboons, hippopotamus, buffalos, servile genet, and many others.
He added that the forest also had seven other species of large mammals such as cheetah, giraffe, gazelle, western kob, korrigum and bohor reed buck aside from small animals.
Our correspondent gathered that apart from mammals, there are more than 350 species of birds in the Yankari Games Reserve out of which 130 are residents, while 50 are pale arctic migrants. The rest are intra- African migrants that move locally within Nigeria. There are also about 26 species of fish, 7 species of amphibians, as well as 17 species of reptiles. Crocodiles and snakes such as African python have also been identified in the forest.
Another thing attracting tourists to Yankari is its natural spring called Wikki Spring with a temperature of 30 degrees where visitors swim comfortably. Wikki Spring is both wide, long, deep and shallow, depending on which side one enters it. Many visitors opine that the water in the Wikki Spring is extra-ordinary as it is clean, fresh and pure that one can see from outside, all that are into it. Besides, it has small rocks that naturally splash water. The spring flows and it is surrounded with plants, making it very magnificent and attractive.
How do visitors watch animals in Yankari? There are guided park tours to view wildlife and other interesting features, either from the park's open trucks or visitors' private vehicles. Visitors can also snap pictures in the reserve. Yankari Games Reserve also has a museum, accommodation, restaurant and sporting facilities. Another wonderful thing about Yankari is that whenever a visitor arrives at the camp, the first creatures to welcome him may be monkeys, notoriously called by the visitors as Area Boys due to their behaviours. According to many visitors sometimes they have to fight with the Area Boys because they steal or snatch the property of the person.
LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, however, gathered that what reduces the patronage of the reserve is that the Yankari charges are very high, which deny many people access to the forest. For instance, apart from the transportation expenses, the visitor will be charged a gate fee of N300 and N1,000 for a vehicle that will take him in to the forest. You will also pay N300 to swim in the spring and then N5,000 or N6,000 before you will be allowed to watch the animals which visitors lament is very costly. But in his reaction, the general manager, Bauchi State Tourism Board, Alhaji Muazu Adamu, said the charges were not high considering the facilities there and the cost of maintaining the place, just as he added that it served as a source of revenue to the state.
"What is being charged in places like Yankari in the countries where tourism serves as a source of income is more than what we are charging here" he pointed out.
Now, are the animals in Yankari increasing or decreasing? Again the general manager responded, "They are not decreasing because government is providing protection to them (animals). People have been employed to stop hunters from hunting the animals. The residents of communities near the forest have been employed to help in protecting the animals because they know the reserve very well," he stated.
LEADERSHIP WEEKEND finally gathered that the level of patronage of Yankari is still satisfactory despite the high charges. But the patronage increases during festivities such as Sallah, Christmas and public holidays. The animals are also seen easily between December to June because they like coming to the revering area that period. But seeing them during the rainy season is by luck as they hide or scatter all over the bush.
At this juncture, it is important to recommend that if the Bauchi State government subsidises the charges, higher patronage would be recorded in the games reserve and more income generated to the state.