Wildlife in Nigeria is virtually getting into extinction due to a gamut of factors. Across the country, little or no attention is being paid to the maintenance of infrastructure that once provided a safe haven for flora and fauna. Similarly, while more and more Nigerians appear to be patronizing tourism, zoos and gardens seem to be fast disappearing in the country.
Following the neglect of zoos and gardens, rare species of animals and birds have since taken a flight and the hope of returning looks slim. A tour around the nation’s gardens and parks reveals that its wildlife has slipped into the same inertia that has afflicted the socio-economic sector of the economy. But is evokes the inevitable question: Where have all the animals gone? Deputy Editor, Soni Daniel, Achor Abimaje, Jos, Anayo Onukwugha, Port Harcourt, Patrick Ochoga, Benin, Najib Sani, Bauchi, Nnamdi Mbawike, Enugu and Sakin Babalola, Ibadan, uncover the vanishing wildlife in Nigeria.
The diminishing returns on wildlife in Nigeria are obvious. Most of the zoos in the country are in a sordid shape. Many others have since been closed down or converted to other uses. A few that are still standing are serving as mere monuments, having lost the animals, birds and the ambience that once excited and attracted visitors to them.
No one can say for sure how these natural settings lost their beauty and steam but the general economic downturn in the country, which has afflicted even vital sectors of the nation’s life, cannot be ruled out. The rot appears to have dealt a debilitating blow on wildlife, leaving it in a state of somnolence. It may take a long time for it to recover from the amnesia but the patrons of wildlife are the immediate losers while the country continues to suffer from the decay that has set into the tourism sector.
Despite its tangible and intangible benefits to mankind, wildlife is yet to be fully appreciated in Nigeria and accorded the pride of place it deserves in the nation’s scheme of things. Beyond the laissez-faire disposition of government towards wildlife, Nigerians are also not fully entrenched in the art of appreciating nature like their counterparts in other climes where the practice has been integrated into daily chores. Thus, treated with disdain by the government, given a cold reception by potential patrons and hounded by poachers and illegal loggers who abound in large numbers in the forests, wildlife in Nigeria has been eclipsed by a whirlwind that continues to ravage the sector like a timeless mirage.
Many states in the federation have deliberately done away with what used to be called zoos and gardens in their domains. A typical example is Enugu State. The children born in that state between 1999 and now are not likely to fully appreciate what a zoo is all about apart from what they read from books and see on the television. The reason is not far-fetched. Chimaroke Nnamani, who ruled the state between 1999 and 2007, did not see any reason why the Enugu Zoo should be operation from the same location with the Government Reserved Area, GRA, and he quickly took a decision to demolish it. Once the bulldozers cleared the gardens, the governor apportioned the land for the building of luxury apartments for the blue-blooded.
Today, the high and the mighty reside in the land that once hosted animals, birds and beautiful flowers and provided a relaxation spot for many.
Whatever might have informed the governor’s action remains a mystery and the answer may not come handy but the regrettable thing is that the Coal City lacks behind in wildlife preservation while tourists and residents have forfeited their rights to animal-viewing to the insatiable desire of some persons to have whatever looks good no matter the problems the greed causes society at large. While the animals were chased out, others died instantly as a result of malnutrition and negligence. The whereabouts of the remaining animals remain unknown.
The only respect the former governor paid to the endangered species was to name the streets in the luxury estate known as Zoo Estate, after the animals.
But it is not only in Enugu that wildlife is in disarray. The nearby zoo in Port Harcourt, which was once a must-see, is now a shadow of its old self. The zoo which was established in 1972 by the Alfred Diete-Spiff administration has since deteriorated in the quality of its services to the public. What remains of it, is a mere shadow of its old self and the public is not impressed at all.
Apart from the administrative block in the zoo, which has some semblance of modernity, all other structures are in a decrepit shape, an indication that they are as old as the zoo itself.
The Port Harcourt zoo located on Trans-Amadi Layout, which used to boast of many animals and birds, now manages with two female lions leaning on a dilapidated cage and some other animals to show for its existence. Visitors to the zoo can hardly gain access to the place without a big fight with touts who have converted the entrance into a loading bay. Besides, the nearby slaughter which continues to send billows of smoke into the sky has since become a nuisance that neither the local nor state government has been able to overcome over the years.
The smoke pollutes not only the zoo but the areas around Woji and its environs, thereby serving as a deterrent to potential visitors to the tourism centre. Although in a bad shape, the zoo still has some animals to show that it has not forgotten its mandate. Some of the surviving animals include gorillas, chimpanzees, antelopes, lions, monkeys and tortoises. Geese, peacocks, crocodiles, alligators and cobra are still found in the place despite the decay that has set into the garden.
But an attendant at the zoo, Mr. Ebelogu Chukwuma told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that the state governor, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi had concluded arrangements to rehabilitate the zoo without further delay.
The situation in Ibadan reflects a sad commentary on wildlife and brings to the fore the dwindling fortunes in the sector over the years. While there seems to be a ready market for wildlife in the state, the poor state of infrastructure is drawing away visitors from the park. For instance, the old National Park in Oyo State is experiencing a lull in business due mainly to inadequate enlightenment on its potentials and poor funding.
Its two branches located at Sepeteri and Igbeti in the Oke Ogun area of the State, hardly record any impressive visits and the setback is taking a toll on its revenue base.
“We are only running this place with the little subvention from the Federal government. If awareness is created this place has the potentials to bring in a lot of money and it would be better for us,” a staff said.
But the University of Ibadan Zoological Garden, which boasted of a wide variety of animals and birds before the flood that ravage it last August , is still better than most of the zoos in the country in terms of animals and state of infrastructure.
Before the flood, the zoo was booming with visitors who used to swarm on the facility like birds. Visitors used to spend time with their loved ones there, reflecting on issues and having fun while the place was doing well. It boasted of lions, elephants and other endangered species before it was overrun by flood. Many animals were killed in the flood and the place has not been the same since then.
However, Vice Chancellor of University, Prof. N Adewole has assured that necessary steps are being taken to put the zoo in a sound state and give value to all.
The Yankari Games Reserves in Bauchi, which used to function as a top spot for tourists is not without some setbacks, although it is better than similar ventures in other parts of the country. The reserve boasts of over 50 species of mammals including lions, leopards, elephants, antelopes, spotted and stripped hyenas and jackals. Others are, Patas monkeys, Tantalus monkeys, baboons, hippopotamus, buffalos and Genet. Its expansive forest also harbours other species of large mammals such as cheetah, Giraffe, Gazelle, Western kob, Korrigum and Bohor reed buck.
Apart from mammals, there are more than 350 species of birds in Yankari out of which 130 are residents, while 50 are pale migrants. The rest are Intra- African migrants that move locally within Nigeria.
There are also about 26 species of fish, seven species of amphibians as well as 17 species of reptiles. Crocodiles and snakes such as African python have also been identified in the forest.
But one of the most attractive features of the reserve to tourists is its natural spring called Wikki with a temperature of 30 degree, which provides cool comfort for fun lovers. Visitors are always swimming in its wide, clean and deep pool. The spring flows from undulating rocks and is surrounded by fresh plants that add beauty to its waves. But no visitor is allowed to watch the animals on their own. As a rule, they must be guided by experienced guards for safety reasons. Such visitors can only watch the animals through open vans provided by the management.
Another exciting feature of the reserve is that daring animals such as monkeys, which are nicknames as ‘area boys’ because of their mischief, are the first to welcome visitors to the park.
The ‘area boys’ are quick to snatch any items of interest from visitors without any notice.
The General Manager of the Bauchi State Tourism Board, Alh Muazu Adamu, who oversees the forest of Yankari, said that the reserve was making more progress and that its charges were minimal compared to similar places outside Nigeria.
But gaining access to the place and seeing the animals do not come cheap.
For instance, apart from the transportation expenses, the visitor will be charged gate fee of N300 and N1000 for transportation round the forest, N300 for swimming and N6000 for watching the animals.
“What is being charged in countries where tourism serves as a source of income is more than what we are charging here,” Adamu said.
But if the Yankari story could be taken as a success, the decline in wildlife in Jos, the Plateau State capital, is worrisome. Compared to what the situation was in recent past, the state could be said to be losing its famous status in an area it once dominated in the country.
In fact it was that commanding height in tourism and natural endowment that the state derived its nickname as the ‘Home of Peace and Tourism’ and no one had the nerve to question it because of its unrivalled potentials. In those days tourists flocked to the state as on regular basis, basking in its allure and ambience.
From the rock formations in Riyom, Wase, Jos East local government areas to the wild life parks in Jos North and Qua’an Pan local government areas as well as the water falls at Kura in Barkin Ladi, Assop Falls in Riyom and Kwal Falls in Bassa local government areas, among other tourist sites, one the state stood shoulders above others in the tourism arena.
But the Jos Wild Life Park which spans about 8sq KM through Dong and Rukuba roads in the State capital is not a place to forget in a hurry. In the 1970s, it was a rendezvous of some sort. It was bubbling with exotic wildlife and many opted to visit it whenever they were in the city.
But it has since lost its beauty not thanks to neglect and poor funding despite the claim by the state that tourism forms part of its 10-point agenda.
Unlike in its hay days, the park now wears the look of a deserted orphan with only a few animals, dilapidated buildings and facilities and low patronage.
The animals such as antelope, swan, elephant, lions, tortoise, snakes, alligators, ostrich, monkeys, baboons eagle, pelican, owl, eagle, vultures, peacock which were seen by our correspondent appeared to be in good shape but not many were around to look at them.
The place looked like an abandoned property.
Even during the festive period, the Park did not get the crowd that it was used to partly because of the security situation in the town and largely due to “nothing new to see” in the Park.
LEADERSHIP-WEEKEND sampled the opinion of residents on the reason the Park is no more what it used to be and quite a number agreed that the place should be overhauled to make it more attractive to tourists.
“I don’t think that this place should be called a tourism site because most of the animals are no longer there while the structures are nothing to write home about,” a resident of the area, Philip Attah,” lamented.
However Miss Joyce Usman who was loitering at the Park, lamented the decay that had set into the park and called for an urgent action on the part of the government to restore the pride of the tourism centre.
She said: “When I was a child in the 80s, this was the place to be but now, you cannot say that anymore.
I did not come here to see animals as there is practically nothing to see. I had a little problem and just needed a placed to relax and cool off,” she explained.
The Park Manager of the park, Mr. Stanley Kumnang, described it as a ‘sick baby’ which needed urgent rehabilitation.
“This is not how a park should look like. Successive governments neglected it and caused the rot that is now affecting its growth. All the animal cages, fences, buildings, automobiles and the infrastructure you see here came with the establishment of the Park in 1972,” he moaned.
He disclosed that the only moveable automobile in the Park is a 39 year-old dilapidated tractor which is being managed to pick animal feeds and decried the destruction of its lean facilities by unknown persons who have not arrested and prosecuted over the years.
“We lack adequate man-power and the animal cages are bad. It will be a major problem if any animal escapes.
“The Park is relatively functional but it is living in its past glory.
People do not come here because of the beauty of the Park, may be they just feel like coming here to relax. We need to improve on the training of staff because staff training is inadequate.
Speaking further, he appreciated the efforts of the present administration of governor Jonah Jang but added that more need to be done.
“This administration has improved the lot of the Park as it has provided feeds for the animals and staff salaries are paid on time but we need urgent attention in securing more animals, getting our infrastructure right.
But the General Manager of the Plateau State Tourism
Corporation, Mr. Michael Pamzi has said that wildlife or Eco-tourism in Nigeria has not been given the required attention as what obtains in other countries.
Pamzi noted that the country’s wildlife might go into extinction if nothing was done to rescue the sector from further slide.
He said that lack of manpower and unchecked poaching of animals were unhealthy for the survival of the sector.
But there seems to be hope in the Okomu National Park, a federal government-owned wildlife project tucked away in the forest of Ovia South LGA of Edo State. It is famous for a wide variety of animals and birds and its forest is one of the best kept on the African continent. Despite the activities of poachers and illegal loggers the park still remains the least disturbed rainforest ecosystem west of the River Niger. The Park contains a unique assemblage of plants and animal diversity which are endemic to the area.
The Park contains a viable population of Nigeria- White monkey, one of African’s most threatened species and two monkeys endemic to Nigeria. It also contains a population of the rare red -capped mangabey, and is one of the last refugees of chimpanzee in Nigeria, in addition to two other primate Mona Monkey and putty-noise monkey.
Okomu National Park is the only protected rain forest eco-system west of the river Niger. In spite of its small size it is the richest in term of biodiversity which boosts of 150 species of plants out which 67 are medicinal; 94 species of fauna, some endangered such as the white-throated monkey, chimpanzee and Ramford buffallos; 700 species of butterflies, some new in science and 231 species of birds, some endangered like the Grey parrots.
The park also hosts forest elephant, forest buffalo, yellow -backed duiker, red river hog, Africa dwarf crocodile and an impressive variety of birdlife and butterflies.
However as a result of the low level of awareness and poor funding of national parks, zoos and tourist sites in Nigeria are not getting the required attention thereby denying the country of the income it ought to have generated like other tourism countries.
The Conservator of Okomu National Park, Cornelius Oladipo, noted that huge potentials in the forest needed to be fully utilised to bring in the needed boost to the country’s eco-tourism.
Oaldipo said that the country’s eco-tourism was being undermined by poor patronage, inadequate funding, insecurity, logging and poaching.
“Security has been a major factor most tourists considered and that has affected tourism not only in Okomu National Park. However, we have commenced a process of dialoguing with the elders, youths and women of our host community.
An environmentalist, Comrade Tony Erha, is of the opinion that eco tourism potentials in Nigeria have not been fully developed as a source of revenue earner like most other countries of the world.
“Eco- tourism is a different aspect of tourism that has do with those things that are natural such as plants, animal and sites. Those sites that are usually protected are aspect of tourism that is not well practised in Nigeria,” Erha noted.
“Government should develop the attitude of keeping our forest conservation. The natural reserve is like a bank account and if you continue to withdraw from it without replenishing, it comes to an end and you have nothing to live on. That is why Nigeria must begin to do something about its natural sites,” he cautioned.
But will the governments at all levels heed the advisory to keep its flora and fauna in healthy state? With the issue of wildlife left on the concurrent list, it is not likely that even a national policy would compel unwilling states and local governments in the country to implement any central legislation on the matter.
And, as each tier of government continues to display a lackadaisical attitude towards conserving nature, paying lip service to the provision of services that are germane to the enhancement of natural environment, the birds, animals and flowers that once added to the wellbeing of the people, will continue to elude us as the grass remains blighted.
A famished land deprived of animals, birds and flowers that are essential to wellness, can only heighten poverty, plight and deprivation. That is why we need to bring back the flora and fauna at once.
Authors: Anayo Onukwugha, Nnamdi Mbawike, Achor Abimaje, Sakin Babalola, Patrick Ochoga, Najib Sani, and Oni Daniel