Daily Trust

Peter Moses
December 15, 2018

“Welcome To Erin (Elephants) Camp Forest. No Hunting. No Logging. No
Farming. No Illegal Entry,” a signpost mounted at a strategic area in Omo
Forest Reserve at Area J4, Ijebu-East, Ogun State, reads.

Despite the warning, Eseke, Sojukodoro and Apora are among some 30
settlements located around and inside the thick Omo Forest Reserve, where
farmers ply their trade, cultivating cocoa, plantain, maize, and others.
About 45 elephants are in the camp, Daily Trust Saturday learnt.

For many years, the elephants lived peacefully in their habitat. However,
in April, some of them reportedly left their domain and invaded some
farmlands both in Ogun State and neighbouring communities in Lagos State,
which led to destruction of crops.

While some farmers in Lagos communities were said to have raised an alarm,
it was gathered a number of farmers whose crops were destroyed in the
settlements which fall under Ogun State kept their agony under wraps.

The elephants that left the reserve were said to have roamed at the
Ogun-Lagos border, where Imobi-Itasin-Epe lagoon communities are located.

It was further gathered that of those elephants, whose number couldn’t be
ascertained, many left the reserve and have not returned. Findings revealed
that the scenario of April this year was not the first time in the series
of near scrapes between man and elephants in the area.

In 2003, some youths in the area were arrested for allegedly killing an
elephant in the reserve, in a bid to sell its tusks for about N25 million

The then Ogun State Commissioner for Forestry, Ayo Olubori quoted the
suspects to have confessed that prominent people in the society gave them
the contract to get them the elephant tusks.

“The suspected killer of the wild animal was arrested on the spot at night,
after a three-hour journey into the forest reserve. The animal is
endangered. If care is not taken, they may go into extinction,” Olubori

In what appears to be a twist, the elephants left their habitats to cause
havoc on farmlands, resulting in economic losses.

During a visit spanning four hours in the jungle, our correspondent
gathered that farming, poaching, hunting and quarrying have distorted the
habitats of the elephants and forced them out into farmlands in some part
of Lagos State.

It was learnt the elephants might have equally destroyed some farmlands in
Ondo and Osun states. This is because Omo Forest shares boundary with
Shasha Forest in Osun State and Oluwa Forest in Ondo.

Several sources who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday said only two out of
about 30 communities located around and inside the forest are legal
settlements. A number of farmers admitted this in interviews.

A farmer at Eseke, a settlement located close to Erin camp, Olatunji
Festus, told our reporter that the elephants destroyed their farmlands at
interval of “two to three times a year.” According to him, the elephants’
invasion usually occurs in the raining season.

Festus said: “They destroyed our cocoa, plantain, maize, and yam on the
farmlands. This has caused us huge economic losses. It happens twice or
thrice in a year, most especially during the raining season.”

When asked on steps taken to rescue the situation, the middle-aged farmer
said “There is nothing we can do. We know this forest belongs to the
government as well as the elephants in there. We are only learning how to
leave peacefully with the animals.”

At Sojukodoro, another settlement within the forest, a female farmer called
Adejoke, described economic losses incurred during invasion as ?huge.?

“My son”, Adejoke said categorically, “There is nothing we can do. We met
them (elephants) in their habitat. Therefore, whichever damage done to our
farmlands, we must endure.”

The Acting Project Manager of Ogun State Forestry Plantation Project,
Adebosin Babatunde admitted destruction of farmlands by the elephants, but
was quick to add that “such incidents do not happen without human
Babatunde, a member of Forest Association of Nigeria (FAN), blamed the
illegal settlements on economic hardship and unemployment.

On the allegation that the elephants had killed some farmers in the area,
the Project Manager confirmed that was an attack on some people on the day
the affected elephants left the forest.

He told Daily Trust Saturday that some youths came in direct contact with a
group of elephants while leaving the forest.”A mother elephant attacked
them because the youths were taking photos and equally doing videos, which
apparently aggravated the animal.”

On compensation to the farmers, he said ?There is no basis for
compensation. This is a gazetted forest and they are illegal occupants.?

Babatunde, however, called for conservation of the forest and limiting of
human interference as the way out.

Daily Trust Saturday gathered the Africa Nature Investors Foundation (ANI)
and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) are working hand in hand to
establish a Wildlife Sanctuary in Omo Forest Reserve.

The sanctuary, if established, will give room for conservation of the
forest in order to protect the elephants and other animals in the Omo
Forest Reserve.

To this end, the two organizations are seeking the Ogun State Government?s
nod to officially declare an area covering 55,000 hectares of land in the
forest for the purpose of establishing Wildlife Sanctuary. The entire Omo
Forest Reserve is put at 130,000 hectares of land.

A wildlife sanctuary is a naturally occurring one, that provides protection
for species from hunting, predation, competition or poaching; it is a
protected area, a geographic territory within which wildlife is protected.

An official of ANI, Tunde Morakinyo, told Daily Trust Saturday that not
many people are aware of the presence of elephants in that forest, just as
he harped on the need to keep them from going into extinction.

He noted that Nigeria?s signing of Elephants Protection Initiative (EPI) in
October was a step in the right direction. “These animals are going into
extinction. Nigeria must be proud that they have forest elephants more than
the whole of West Africa put together. Many people have not even seen an
elephant, and they wish they could. The area [in Omo Forest] is not safe.
We have to keep it safe, to protect the elephants, and other animals too.”