NIGERIA’S travel and tourism journalists have collectively spoken against continuing attacks on the local wildlife population, calling on the government and other relevant institutions to take the problem much more seriously.
“As a nation we need to let people know that these animals are national assets,” says Ikechi Uko, publisher of African Travel Quarterly (ATQ) magazine and an influential voice on the continent. “Nigeria needs to make a lot more effort to protect the few animals left by shaming the killers and prosecuting some.”
Wale Olapade of Nigerian Tribune proposes stiff penalties for indiscriminate poaching that goes on daily in Nigeria. “Also there is need for a long-term campaign on the importance of game reserves and wildlife parks as it relates to the socio- economic wellbeing of Nigeria’s eco-tourism landscape,” he adds.
“Nigeria is just full of people who only think about what to eat today and not how to feed a community for the long term,” says travel blogger and author, Pelu Awofeso who has already started a social-media campaign #SaveNigeriasWildlife in the hope that it will help draw more attention to the issue. “Imagine how many more tourists would be drawn to Idanre town if they learned there was an Elephant colony there.”
Early in March photographs of a dead elephant, the hunter who killed it and a crowd of onlookers in Janiyi village (Idanre, Ondo State) surfaced on Nigeria’s social media. It became an instant talking point on several online platforms and the focus of newspaper editorials.
Oddly enough, this shooting happened in the same week that the international community marked World Wildlife. According to news reports, the locals claimed that over time herds of elephants had repeatedly strayed into the community, and in the process destroyed crops and houses, and trampled on people. And so fed up with constantly being in the mammals’ arms way, the locals called on the hunters, who tracked the elephants and eventually shot one.
“There are many ways this is wrong, but you can’t fix a problem permanently if the origin of the problem isn’t dealt with,” said the twitter handle @LogicallySpeakn, reacting to a tweet with hundreds of comments, likes and retweets. “Are the agencies in charge of wildlife in Nigeria ignorant too? It’s easy to blame the shooter, what about the people who let it happen?”
During the celebration of World Environment Day in June 2016, Nigeria’s former Environment Minister and currently United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed was quoted to have said: “The status of wildlife in the country leaves much to be desired, as the rate of depletion of the population of animals like the elephants, leopards, giraffes and crocodiles amongst others are frightening.”
Shocked and upset, Nigerians chastised the “ignorant” hunter for depriving the village of a potential source of tourist dollars. Some commentators called for him to be prosecuted, arguing that his action was ill advised and dents ongoing biodiversity conservation efforts in the country; many called for hunter groups nationwide and communities to be better educated on the importance and benefits of preserving the unique animal and plant species in their communities.
“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,” writes ThisDay, a national newspaper. “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.”
The hills of Idanre are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of two to be found in Nigeria, which has seven National Parks. The West African country is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and his laws—the National Park Service Act, the Endangered Species Act, The Forestry Act and Wild Animals Act—to protect its flora and fauna heritage. Apparently, they’ve been largely overlooked.
There have been slaughters of this nature in recent years, reported in the media but largely ignored by the authorities. In January, six chimpanzees as well as a manatee were killed in Delta State; conservationists say that three manatees were also killed in Lagos weeks earlier. In December 2017, local vigilantes killed an African Civet in Benin City (Edo State). Back in February of the same year, locals in an Abuja locality captured and killed a Hippopotamus; and whales that washed up on the shores in Lagos, Ondo and Akwa Ibom States were cut in pieces and shared. In all of these cases, the locals ate their catch.
Newspaper reports quote the commissioners for environment, tourism and culture in Ondo State as saying they couldn’t be bothered. Curiously, the public institutions with responsibilities for tourism promotion and development—the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture (FMIC), the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), the National Parks Service (NPS), the Forestry Research Institute, to mention just four — have been mostly silent on these developments.