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At Home and in London, Nigeria Tackles the Illegal Wildlife Trade

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Herd of elephants in Yankari Game Reserve. Photo ©WCS Nigeria.

By Andrew Dunn
October 10, 2018

[Note: this is the second in a series of blogs by WCS staff participating in the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference: London 2018, which runs October 11–12]

If

there is one country in the world that needs help in tacking illegal wildlife trade, it is Nigeria. In a country of 200 million people, it is no surprise that there is now very little wildlife left outside of national parks and the odd game reserve. One sees wildlife smoked as bushmeat and hanging for sale by the side of the road more often than alive in the safety of a national park.

But did you know that Nigeria contains some of the last West African lions (now recognized as distinct from lions elsewhere in Africa), as well as Cross River gorillas (the rarest great ape in Africa), and both savanna and forest elephants? Unfortunately, Nigeria has become one of the major hubs for the illegal wildlife trade in Africa, an issue that will receive new attention in London this week at the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference.

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Yankari wildlife rangers on patrol. Photo ©Natalie Ingle/WCS.

Much of Nigeria’s illicit wildlife trade focuses on ivory and pangolin scales destined for markets in China or Vietnam. Nigeria itself has perhaps only 200–300 elephants remaining, and pangolins are likewise increasingly scarce. The shipments originate from outside of Nigeria’s borders, mostly from neighboring countries in central Africa. Only a small few of these illegal shipments are ever discovered. Most slip through unseen.

Meanwhile, wildlife populations in central Africa continue to decline and Nigeria’s international reputation steadily worsens. In addition to the demand for ivory and pangolin scales, a rapacious market for Nigerian rosewood has arisen that is rapidly spiraling out of control.

Nigeria recently signed on to the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI), which seeks to end the ivory trade and build a sustainable future for elephants and people.

To combat this illicit trade, WCS and its conservation partners in Nigeria have been focused mainly on support for site-based law enforcement. That means reducing levels of hunting and protecting habitat to safeguard lions, elephants, chimpanzees, and gorillas. At the same time, we are also working closely with the Nigeria Customs Service and the Federal Ministry of Environment to raise greater awareness of the menace posed by illegal wildlife trade and the importance of enforcing existing CITES regulations.

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Confiscated rosewod illegally harvested in Yankari Game Reserve. Photo ©WCS Nigeria.

A key feature of our work in recent years has been promoting transboundary collaboration between Nigeria and Cameroon for more effective conservation. Most of the illegal wildlife trade is international. Tackling it requires strengthened cross‐border and regional co‐operation, and better co‐ordination of regional wildlife law enforcement networks.

Our work to date has included support for joint patrols and the sharing of operational intelligence and information, as well as joint capacity-building initiatives.

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The author with wildlife rangers on patrol. Photo ©WCS Nigeria.

What I am most excited about is the possible creation of a Nigeria-Cameroon transboundary corridor at the conference. This large complex landscape covers an area of over 100,000 km2, greater than the size of Scotland, and includes eight globally important national parks and protected areas. Creation of the green corridor is expected to enhance security in the region, strengthen law enforcement efforts needed to protect important wildlife species and boost sustainable livelihoods for people living within the landscape.

An elephant action plan for Nigeria would raise awareness, develop consensus, and prioritize conservation activities like better law enforcement and a review of the wildlife laws in the country.

It is encouraging that Nigeria recently signed on to the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI). Heralded as Africa’s response to the elephant crisis, the EPI seeks to end the ivory trade and build a sustainable future for elephants and people. In the wake of this action, I hope Nigeria will soon ban all domestic trade in ivory (although all international trade has been banned in Nigeria for some time, there is still a sizeable domestic market that must be closed).

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Much of Nigeria’s illicit wildlife trade focuses on ivory and pangolin scales destined for markets in China or Vietnam. Photo ©Paul Hilton/WCS.

In the near term, I am looking forward to the development of an elephant action plan for Nigeria. Such plans can be useful documents that raise awareness, develop consensus, and prioritize conservation activities like better law enforcement and a review of the wildlife laws in the country. Of course the trick is to find funds to implement these actions in the field, and I have high hopes that the London Conference may provide additional funding and renewed commitments.

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Andrew Dunn is Nigeria Country Director for WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

Read other stories in this blog series: