Government must do more to protect residents from avoidable accidents

The proposed law by the Lagos State House of Assembly to prohibit ownership of wild animals as pets is commendable. It is in line with THISDAY editorial of 19th November 2019 which called for a prohibition of the domestication of wild animals, shortly after an adult lion was sighted at the home of a Lagos resident. We drew attention to the fact that affluent urban dwellers, for fear of insecurity and other sundry reasons, have transcended from having clones of wild dogs as pets to keeping lions, leopards, and other big cats. These are acquired as innocuous cubs but they eventually grow into wild beast, complete with all the instincts that put humans in mortal fear.

Conservationists are certain that the numbers of these illegal pets in Nigeria have increased and the situation is becoming worrisome. The issue yet to be resolved is whether Nigeria now has lion breeding farms like South Africa, where there is a captive breeding industry with an estimated 8,000 lions, used in the tourist industry for cub‐petting.

As we noted previously, various reasons have been adduced by those who keep lions and other wildcats, including for security or economic purposes. Experts familiar with the usually cross-border illegal wildlife market have been expressing surprise that lions, classified as non-domestic wildcats, are easy to purchase as pets and that they come relatively cheap with cubs selling between N2 million and N3 million. However, they insist that lions are not domesticated animals, and that even if they were raised in a human residence, they are still wild and would always act on their instincts. That is why they remain dangerous.

Meanwhile, the trade in lions is prohibited internationally under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna (CITES), and locally in Nigeria, as they are protected by the Endangered Species Act of 2016 and by the Endangered Species Control. While conservationists believe the government could have evoked these laws and treaties to punish the Lagos resident who had a lion as an illegal pet nothing was done. The Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) which has called for the prosecution of the Lagos culprit is also seeking a confirmation of the source of the animal and that anyone in that supply chain should feel the full weight of the law.

On the whole, we commend the Lagos State government for its timely response to the distress calls from the neighbours of the lion pet keeper. But the government, at all levels, must do more to protect residents from avoidable accidents and possible death in our towns and cities if wild beasts like lions, kept as illegal pets, break their bounds on account of hunger and go in search of food. Sadly, lion cubs are sold across Africa by captive breeders in farms, which make it possible for prospective buyers to own these powerful carnivores, in spite of the existence of laws that should regulate these activities.

Nigeria may just be a ready market, but in the time past and as one of the range states of lion across Africa, the nation had large population of the protected animal. Regrettably, they are now known to survive in only two sites in the country, and these are Kainji Lake National Park where researchers tracked up to 30 lions and Yankari Game Reserve with less than five cats. However, records show that no fewer than 50 cats live in the wild in Nigeria. Yet without lions, according to experts, the entire ecosystems can falter, so by remaining in the wild they play a key role in the food chain. That explains why nobody should be allowed to turn them into house pets in the country.