Monday Editorial

The authorities could do more to protect wildlife across the country

In a devastating blow to conservation of wildlife in Nigeria, an ignorant hunter last week shot and killed an elephant at Janiyi Camp, Idanre, Ondo State after which he took photographs with the animal’s remains as proof of his crime. While the rest of the world may be laughing at us, it should worry the authorities that despite the establishment of protected areas, hunters can now freely enter many of our game reserves to kill protected animals.

It is a shame that a nation which once had the most diverse population of elephants in the world can now boast only a few because they have been hunted almost to extinction. The Idanre Forest Reserve, where the latest tragedy took place, covers 561 square kilometres and is a designated nature reserve of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Legal and regulatory frameworks in wildlife conservation in the country date back to the colonial era. The Forestry Act and Wild Animals Act were patterned after the 1933 London Convention for Protection of African Fauna. This was updated by the Conservation of Biological Diversity and International Law, 1990 UNEP, Nairobi.

Some of the major problems of the Nigerian forest elephants, according to conservationists, are forest conversion for other uses, habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching for their ivory, among others. The Nigeria Conservation Foundation (NCF) has always argued that the populations of forest elephants are in dire need of protection, because only about 200 of them remain in the wild in the five sites in southern Nigeria. The nation’s other elephant community, known as Savannah specie, is found in the north and they are better protected at Yankari National Park in Bauchi State.

Apparently 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. By killing a rare animal dubbed ‘gentle giant’ because of its harmless nature right in its natural habitat, the damage done to Nigeria’s image is huge. We therefore call on the authorities to find the hunter and bring him to justice if only to deter others from believing they can go into our game reserves and kill protected animals without consequences.

The ownership of wildlife in the country is vested in the federal government, according to Section 20 of the National Park Service Act, which states: “The ownership of every wild animal and wild plant existing in its natural habitat in, National park and anything whatsoever, whether of biological geomorphologic or historical origin or otherwise, existing or found in a National park is hereby vested in the federal government and subject to the control and management by the federal government for the benefit of Nigeria and mankind generally.”

Notwithstanding, there should be deliberate initiatives to protect the nation’s wildlife, even if this has to be done in collaboration with private partners, who have expertise in the field. For instance, at Yankari, there is a whole lot of protection work being done by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in collaboration with the Bauchi State government, which runs the park. The WCS has its Elephant Guardian programme to reduce the conflict between humans and elephants and it has helped to improve the level of tolerance towards elephants and the crop damage inflicted.

 While 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, it is also important that Nigerians be enlightened on the issues of environment. As things stand, only organised conservation work, government support and enlightenment and good habitat management are capable of saving the forest elephant species from extinction in Nigeria.