The authorities could do more to protect wild life

Last weekend report in a national newspaper that many affluent Nigerians now keep as pets wild animals that have been declared endangered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and by the World conservation bodies should worry the authorities. “While some, in a bid to stand out from the crowd, opt for special breeds of dogs and cats, many have taken the trend a notch higher by going in favour of dangerous and wild animals like crocodiles, alligators, pythons, tigers, hyena and even lions. Not minding the dangers they may pose for their safety, individuals with the resources have continued to pamper such exotic pets with care, spending decent amounts on their upkeep each month”, according to the report in The PUNCH newspaper.

To compound the problem, in what has become an everyday spectacle in our country, itinerant traditional medicine sellers and owners of small circuses move around towns and cities dragging along fettered animals that have been declared endangered and near extinct by UNEP and the World conservation bodies. These animals are most often cruelly treated by their captors who compel them to perform tricks for various paying audiences. Most of these animals are usually infants whose parents either exist as families in the wild or may have been killed by poachers, who would then sell the children in the black market.

Aside the illegality of these practices, what is lost to those involved in this dangerous game is that these wild animals still possess their natural instincts, even if they are dulled from living outside their habitat. But the main concern for us is that the act of parading wild animals on the streets is both illegal and cruel.

It is noteworthy that Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as “CITES”. The treaty aims to protect wildlife from over-exploitation from international trade. It also provides different levels of protection for a large list of plant and animal species, working to protect their numbers in the wild. It does this by imposing a specialised permitting system on the transport and trade of specific listed species. By those extra hurdles, CITES has created an environment that has had a significant impact on the rampant over-exploitation of the species it monitors. Nigeria has a number of animal and plant species that are listed by The World Conservation Union (IUCN) in the 2004 IUCN “Red List of Threatened Animals” as ‘vulnerable’ to extinction.

Regrettably, the government has not been able to adequately equip forest guards to stop poachers, who 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. It is from these poachers who also operate as thieves that those who keep these wild animals as pets at home get them. Yet this unchecked thriving trade in wildlife in Nigeria led to the suspension of the country from CITES in March 2008. Five years earlier in 2003, after two gorillas that were being illegally trafficked were intercepted in Kano, international and local conservationists labelled 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 of these animals have either been hunted to extinction or are now serving as pets at the homes of the rich of our society.