This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria and Environmental Protection

editorial

The nation's wild life needs to be protected by checkmating the activities of poachers

A few weeks ago, no fewer than eight persons were reportedly arrested in Ogun State for allegedly killing an elephant within a game reserve. The shooter of the elephant and the seven accomplishes were believed to be agents of some prominent individuals in the society who trade in elephant tusks each of which costs several millions of Naira. But the incident raises serious questions about the enforcement of our conservation laws.

Given the dangers of ignoring the threat to the natural ecosystem from acute depletion of some plants and animals, efforts were made in the past to preserve the nation's wildlife through the establishment of protected areas, such as Yankari and Lame-Burra game reserves in Bauchi State. However, poachers with sophisticated weapons have managed to enter these sanctuaries, killing even endangered animals like the African wild dogs, cheetah, giraffe, and antelopes. Also threatened are the Cross River gorilla, the drill, and a number of smaller guenons that are found only in Nigeria and Cameroon forests.

Nigeria has a number of animal and plant species that are endangered or vulnerable and are listed as 'vulnerable' to extinction by The World Conservation Union (IUCN) in the 2004 IUCN "Red List of Threatened Animals". Instructively, while Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), poachers operate almost freely within the nation's protected game reserves in Yankari, Bauchi State; Okomu, Edo State; Gashaka-Gumti National Park in Adamawa and Taraba states; Cross River National Park and Omo Forest Reserve, Ogun State.

Unfortunately, animals that are lucky to survive poachers are trapped and dragged through the streets of cities by herbalists or snake charmers in defiance of the laws protecting them. Recently, at the Yankari Games Reserve, wildlife poaching, particularly of the elephant population, worsened to the extent that the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) warned that the reserve would soon be empty of animals as it is possible to find meat of elephants, roan, waterbuck and buffalo in the surrounding markets, all from Yankari.

Regrettably, it was because these unwholesome activities went unchecked that Nigeria was suspended from CITES in March 2008. Five years earlier in 2003, after two gorillas illegally trafficked were intercepted in Kano, international and local conservationists labeled Nigeria a hub in the illegal trade in endangered wildlife. The two captured female western lowland nine-year-old gorillas were subsequently sent back to their homeland in Cameroon that year to the shame of our country. Incidentally, Nigeria was once said to have the most diverse population of monkeys and apes in the world, but as its forests have dwindled many animals have been hunted to extinction. Nigeria's remaining gorillas are from a particularly endangered sub-species of the lowland gorilla: the Cross River gorilla that lives in the rugged mountainous jungle on the Nigeria-Cameroon border. At the start of the 1980s there were thought to be 1,500 gorillas in the area, but in 2003 the United Nations' Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP) feared there may be less than 250.

We call on the federal government to do all within its powers to protect the nation's wildlife, particularly the few remaining elephants and gorillas. More importantly, everything should be done to remove Nigeria from the list of major players in the illegal trade in endangered wildlife by taking its conservation responsibilities more seriously. We also believe that government needs to act fast if we are to avert the consequences of a 2008 USAID study on Nigerian's biodiversity which says the nation faces extreme pressures on biodiversity and tropical forests that are mounting.

Specifically, as recommended in the report, government needs to stem the over-harvesting and poaching of wildlife while providing relevant information about the present status of most habitats and species, the actual extent of protected areas as well as other key data that could ease the management of these natural resources.

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