The average Nigerian’s love for bushmeat is legendary. It is so serious that on sighting any wild animal, thoughts of the cooking pot take centre stage! It is a common sight to see young men ‘excavating’ large expanses of land in the quest to trap rats; not to mention the yearly indiscriminate bush burning activities in the hunt for wildlife.
For almost a century, Nigerians have been hunting animals as a source of protein and the resources are fast depleting, due to the excessive pressure on wildlife. Yes, the argument is that bushmeat is healthier because of its low level of fat, but the question remains, how can we keep the supply fresh? Researchers estimate that about half a million tonnes of bushmeat are killed every year in Nigeria. The danger is that if animals continued to be hunted with such reckless abandon, especially large mammals that have slow rates of reproduction, many of these animals would become extinct in a few decades. It is important to note that some species of wild animals that were abundant a few decades ago have become very difficult to come by. Two decades ago, when journeying through Nigeria, you were always greeted with the sight of cheap bushmeat for sale at almost every stop, but these days, it is scarce and very expensive. Local hunters in Ogori, a community in Kogi State, would regale you with tales of how it was so easy to hunt when they were younger because bushmeat was abundant.
In developed nations, wildlife preservation is taken very seriously. Hunting is regulated and people are encouraged to treat animals with respect. Even fashionist as who crave the luxury of fur coats and other fur or animal skin related fashion items have to make do with man-made fur, while the indiscriminate killing of wildlife is a grevious offence that attracts jail sentences. As a result of this, the population of wild animals, especially endangered species that were on the brink of extinction, has rebounded. The situation has so improved in some developed nations that authorities have resorted to culling in order to control the explosive multiplication of these animals and maintain the desired ecosystem. Another angle to it is that these nations have put measures in place to ensure that the ecosystem is undisturbed.
While it is impossible to totally ban hunting in Nigeria, it is important for us to adopt measures that will help preserve our wildlife. Government and non-governmental organisations must strive to be of assistance in this quest. In Kenya for instance, Masaai herdsmen regularly killed lions which attacked their herds, but this practice was stopped when an NGO took the pains to pay the herdsmen for every cow that was killed by lions.
A very effective weapon of fighting this battle is for government to carry out a mass campaign on the need for hunters to regulate their activities. In fact, in some countries, it is the duty of government to declare days appointed for hunting activities, as well as the number of animals permitted to be killed. It would also not be too much for government to create incentives that will encourage rural dwellers to heed the need for moderation.
Furthermore, as a nation, we can explore other means of getting protein. According to experts, about 90 per cent of the fish consumed in Nigeria is imported. This means there is big market for fish farming and as such, people should be encouraged to invest in that area.
The harrowing effects of bush burning during hunting activities are abysmal. It should be tackled with all vigour. Apart from causing the death of many animals, it also destroys the ecosystem and makes it almost impossible for wildlife to recover fully, as both the trees and green shrubs the animals need are destroyed.
We must of necessity catch up with the rest of the world in preserving precious wildlife and literally, not eat up our future today.