Human activities have encouraged the depletion of wildlife through deliberate attempts to poach and hunt for profit, progressively making many of the animals to be extinct and lost forever.
Conservationists estimate that the current rate of extinction is 1,000 times more than the natural rate, making it necessary for citizens to imbibe the practice of caring for wildlife for the benefit of all.
According to them, preservation of wildlife should be the responsibility of everyone as governments at all levels should be encouraged to create awareness on the need to stop indiscriminate killings of wild animals, especially for consumption as is the practice in Nigeria.
The menace of poachers killing wildlife for export and hunters selling animals as “bush meat’’ to citizens have been serious concerns for stakeholders and conservationists.
However, some Nigerian hunters who engage in illegal hunting claimed they were not aware that hunting in the farmlands they inherited from their forefathers was a criminal offence.
Malam Idris Abubakar, a hunter at Nasko, Magama Local Government Area of Niger State, said: “My forefathers hunted in this land, farmed and today you are telling me that it is criminal to hunt and eat bush meat.’’
“This is my source of livelihood so where and what do you want us to do, go hungry?’’ he wondered.
Mfok Uduak, a farmer and hunter from Ikom town in Ikom Local Government Area of Cross River State, said he had no other source of livelihood hence using his hunting skills to support his farming profession had been of immense help to him.
When asked if he knew that it was illegal to kill animals, he said, “We have been hunting here for ages; by the way, this is my fatherland so must I take permission before I hunt in my own land?’’
However, some conservation stakeholders in 2018 did a lot of sensitisation to the public on the danger of destroying wildlife.
The sensitisation also involved local communities in the programmes due to the urgent need for conservation and preservation of biodiversity.
They described conservation as the sustainable use and management of natural resources including wildlife, water, air, and earth deposits.
The stakeholders agreed that through hunting, pollution, habitat destruction, and contribution to global warming, human beings were speeding up the loss of biodiversity at an alarming rate.
For Alhaji Ibrahim Goni, the Conservator-General, Nigeria National Park Service, working with the local communities to conserve nature would address threats such as wildlife poaching, wildfires and environmental degradation in the country.
“The best community conservation practices will offer powerful insights that could help save wildlife and inform the process of forming new conservation in Nigeria.
“The communities see these poachers, sometimes even know them and aid them to escape from the authorities when chased.
“This therefore calls for increased community involvement in wildlife conservation and secure livelihoods.’’
According to Goni, people often waste natural resources, animals are overhunted; forests are cleared exposing land to wind and water damage.
“All the things we need to survive such as food, water, air, and shelter come from natural resources.
“Some of these resources like small plants can be replaced quickly after they are used while others, like large trees, take a long time to replace.
“If resources are carelessly managed, many will be used up. If used wisely and efficiently, however, renewable resources will last much longer,’’ he said.
Goni said that sometimes the need to conserve resources often conflicted with other needs.
“Some jewelry and medicine industries will encourage poaching in order to get raw materials for their factories; a timber company may want to harvest the area’s trees for construction materials.
“All these needs are valid, but sometimes the plants and animals that live in the areas are forgotten.
“The benefits of development need to be weighed against the harm to animals that may be forced to find new habitats, and thus the depletion of resources we may want in the future.”
Goni said that the effects of climate change and hardship in the country had increased clash with park rangers and poachers.
He, therefore, called for the need to put in place a socio-economic programme aimed at improving livelihoods of the communities in and around the park and strengthening the laws.
However, another challenge of depleting the wildlife through human activities is the migration to habitats that are conducive for them.
To help stem this disturbing trend, stakeholders called for community participation in the conservation and preservation of these natural resources since the products and benefits from nature rely on biodiversity.
Mr Tunde Morakinyo, one of the Directors of Africa Nature Investors (ANI), an initiative led by African professionals to bring best-practice in nature conservation to Africa, said that both illegal internal and international trade in animals also contributed to the depletion of biodiversity.
“Unfortunately, animals become extinct when they are hunted to death and their habitats destroyed, so many more animals will become extinct in Nigeria unless we can get better at protecting our national parks and forest reserves.
“Pollution could also be a factor since wildlife may not continue to habitat in places they perceive as being bad for their health, so they are likely to migrate.
“This is why it has been estimated that the rate of depletion through man’s activities is about 1000 times more than that caused through natural means.
“So, ANI has come to encourage the best conservation practices in Africa in a sustainable way for the betterment of the people of Africa and the world at large,’’ Morakinyo said.
Mr Michael O’Brien-Onyeka, the Senior Vice President Africa Field Division of Conservation International (CI) Foundation, said that the National Park Service’s role should be strengthened to empower people, regulate ecosystems and protect endangered species.
“For a more sustainable conservation of key reserved areas for healthy living, the local people of the areas must be empowered otherwise they will turn to these reserved areas to source for livelihood.
“We need nature to survive, nature does not need us and the only way to have quality environment for healthy living is to protect the ecosystem,” he advised.
The stakeholders, therefore, pushed for the review of law that would stipulate serious punishments for the killing of endangered species like elephants, gorillas, leopards and other wildlife.
They described the fines being given to offenders presently as “a tap on the wrist’’ for such grievous offences.
They specifically called on the Federal Government to review the archaic wildlife laws to come up with effective protection and management policies for wildlife resources.
According to them, the revised laws will help to avert the indiscriminate and wanton killing of these species.
The bottom line therefore is that there is a great need for conservation authorities and host communities to form a synergy.
This synergy will enable them to adopt a much more holistic approach to finding a lasting solution to this menace that can ultimately only spell doom for life on earth.
By Ebere Agozie