The authorities could do more to protect wildlife

Despite the fact that there is no report that anybody has ever been tried and convicted for the offence, the 1999 Constitution prohibits the abuse of animals under Miscellaneous Offences. It states in Chapter 50 on ‘Cruelly to Animals’ that any person who cruelly beats, kicks, ill-treats, over-rides, over-drives, over-loads, tortures, infuriates, or terrifies any animal, or causes or procures, or, being the owner, permits any animal to be so used “is guilty of an offence of cruelty and is liable to imprisonment for six months or to a fine of fifty naira, or to both such imprisonment and fine.”

Sadly, it has become an everyday spectacle for itinerant traditional medicine sellers and owners of small circuses to move around towns and cities dragging along fettered animals that have been declared endangered and near extinct by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and by the World conservation bodies. These animals, which include, but not limited to, monkeys, baboons and hyenas are cruelly treated by their captors, who compel them to perform tricks for various paying audiences. Most of them 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. The issue 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 “Red List of Threatened Animals”.

It is noteworthy that the federal government has not been able to adequately equip forest guards to stop poachers, who operate almost freely within the nation’s protected game reserves. From Yankari, Bauchi State to Okomu, Edo State Gashaka-Gumti National Park in Adamawa and Taraba States to Cross River National Park and Omo Forest Reserve, Ogun State, there is no protection for the animals. Worse still, poachers are usually not interested in the orphans that they leave either to die of hunger or get picked up by people who then sell them to itinerant medicine men or circus operators.

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 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. The federal government recently employed some forest guards. But they can do more by mopping up the wildlife on our streets and sending them back into their natural habitats.