Government could do more to protect the country’s wildlife

The photograph on the front page of The PUNCH newspaper last Sunday of two people sitting atop a hippopotamus killed in Abaji Area Council of Abuja is a very familiar scene which also tells a compelling story of how little we care for the environment. “A hippopotamus has been terrorising Abaji and Kwali communities in Abuja before it was finally killed on Saturday, February 4, close to the River Gurara, by local hunters” written on an online portal which also published the photograph was the only news report about the incident. Yet considering that this has happened many times before, questions must be asked about the enforcement of our conservation laws.

While we still do not know the circumstances under which the Abuja hippopotamus was killed by the mob which immediately carved out its meat, it is unfortunate that Nigerians are ignoring the threat to the natural ecosystem from acute depletion of some plants and animals while the authorities look the other way. Despite the establishment of protected areas, poachers with sophisticated weapons have managed to enter many of our Game Reserves, killing even endangered animals, including Hippopotamus which are protected by Decree No. 11 of 1985.

Essentially because Nigerians have still not understood the importance of environment, there is a lot of ignorance about how losing some species of plants and animals can have disastrous impact on the rest of the ecosystem, since the effects will be felt throughout the food chain. “From providing cures to deadly diseases to maintaining natural ecosystems and improving overall quality of life, the benefits of preserving threatened and endangered species are invaluable”, said the American National Wildlife Federation.

Instructively, while Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), poachers have almost striped 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. Animals that are lucky to survive poachers are trapped and dragged through the streets of cities by herbalists or snake charmers in defiance or in ignorance of laws protecting them. For instance, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) has had to warn that the Yankari Game 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. In 2003, after two gorillas 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.

It is indeed instructive that 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 by taking its conservation responsibilities more seriously. We also believe that government needs to stem the overharvesting and poaching of wildlife and to provide relevant information about the present status of most habitats and species and other key data that could ease management of these natural resources.