Sclater’s guenon with young on a branch

The loss of flora/plant and fauna/animal species from human activities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria is capable of being regenerated and this is exactly what the Niger Delta Biodiversity Conservation Project (NDBP) sets out to achieve. The communities where the demonstration projects are located obviously understand their benefits and are mainstreaming them into their existence and livelihoods. Bennett Oghifo reports

The Niger Delta Biodiversity Conservation Project (NDBP) is a five-year biodiversity conservation programme within the Niger Delta. The programme is being implemented by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with the support of Ministries of Environment within the implementing States, non-Governmental Organisations and the participating communities.

The main aim of the project is to enhance cooperation between the Government, the Oil and Gas industry and local communities within the Niger Delta in building and piloting new biodiversity action planning tools for proactive biodiversity management in the Niger Delta region.

In order to meet this objective, a set of activities were carried out, and among them is the implementation of Community Biodiversity Action Plan (CBAP) which started in 2014 within the participating Niger Delta States – Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers State.

Communities and their projects…
Just before Christmas, last year, a group of journalists undertook a tour of these biodiversity conservation projects in the participating Niger Delta states- Akwa Ibom, Rivers, and Delta.

Community Forest of Ikot Uso Akpan Itam, Itu…
The tour began in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, in the Community Forest of Ikot Uso Akpan Itam, Itu that is being regenerated through the project for the conservation of specie of Monkeys endemic to Nigeria, known as Sclater’s Guenon.

The council of elders, led by the village Head, Chief Asuquo Simon said the Ikot Uso Akpan community has high regard for these primates, stating that it is the only habitat Sclater’s guenon in Akwa Ibom State.
Hunting of the animals is prohibited because they are sacred to the community. “We call the Monkeys the ‘First Daughter’ of Itam- Awa Itam. The Monkeys give us pride; they make us bold to tell people in the world that we are the only community that owns everything because our Monkeys stay on top of every animal on the ground. Monkeys that are seen in surrounding communities are from our community and at the end of the day, they usually return to their home in our forest where they are safe. This is the only community that conserves the plants – the trees, fruits that these Monkeys eat. We thank the UNDP that gave us money to plant these trees- we have done it and the fruit trees grow very well and very soon the Monkeys will start eating the fruits.”

Monkeys have made their community popular, and there is cordial relationship between them and members of the community, saying that the primates mimic their women when they knead ropes, said Chief Asuquo, who had with him Chief Effiong Etok, Chairman; Kingsley Nkutt; and Elder Oku Elapa, as well as youths and women, who later danced for their guests.
The women leader confirmed the village Head’s assertion, stating that the Monkeys are friendly and do not cause them any harm. “We see the Monkeys as our sisters and brothers. They chase away other animals, particularly Grass cutters from destroying our crops.”

The project’s team leader, Dr. Dore advised the community leaders to take their Monkey conservation initiative a step further by putting their mascot at the airport in Uyo. “This community should declare a Sclater’s guenon Conservation Day, a day set aside to mark the conservation efforts of this community; when lovers of the primates and those who want to associate with them would come and celebrate them. It should be called Sclater’s guenon Day.”
Dore urged them to consider his suggestion, adding “The Minister of Information and Tourism is looking for such ventures and story-types. So, you should be able to talk about it early enough. The beginning of the Sclater’s guenon Conservation Day may not be glamourous but gradually it will become renowned.”

Eket forest conservation…
The team was received by the Village Head, Odoro Enen Akaiedoholdua in Eket Local Government Area, His Highness, Chief Enodien, who is the custodian of the community’s forest.
It was late in the evening and the team had to get to the forest early and leave before it becomes dark. The forest is 16.5 hectares, as surveyed by the community, and it is very rich in biodiversity.

The guide, whose voice is almost drowned by forest sound, said the forest is the home of the community’s deity. “People don’t just come here and do whatever they like and so when we came here we realized that some exploitation was going on somewhere and we talked to those involved. Apart from being a sacred forest it is also a community forest that can be exploited rationally and preserved for posterity. We embarked on enrichment planting wherever there was opening in the forest; we used new seedlings.”

Before then, the team was at a forest where Georgie Environmental Conservation Services did a regeneration project. It moved on to Mogho community in Ogoniland of Rivers State and to two other forests in Port Harcourt. The journey moved west thereafter to Abraka in Delta State, through Ughelli to the source of the glassy River Ethiope at Umuaja. The expected stop in Bayelsa State was aborted by security reports. Regardless, there were updates about the project there from the Niger Delta Biodiversity Conservation Project Coordinator, Dr. Mathew Dore, who led the tour.

In this year and age in Nigeria, it is grossly inconceivable for anyone to forage in the forest for their livelihood like in the early age. This sums up the thought process of Niger Delta Biodiversity Conservation Project Coordinator on the deforestation that is leading to the loss of indigenous flora and fauna in the Niger Delta area of the country.

The regeneration is being done with indigenous species alone, said Dore.