The Oji River Local Government of Enugu State in Nigeria has passed a bill into law to protect primates found in two communities in the area. The communities are Akpugoeze and Inyi .
Tagged the “Primate Rights Law”, the legislation became effective on November 1, 2019. Council officials said they acted in response to a need for greater awareness about the ecological and cultural values of the primate species found in the region and also to the global biodiversity crisis.
Species to be protected under this law include: Sclater’s monkey (Cercopithecus sclateri), Mona monkey (Cercopithecus mona), Patas monkey (Erythrocebus patas), Tantalus monkey (Chlorocebus tantalus), Angwantibo (Arctocebus calabarensis), Milne-Edwards’ potto (Perodicticus edwardsi), as well as all galagos and bushbabies (Galagoides spp., Euoticus pallidus, and Sciurocheirus alleni).
“Any person or group of persons found to engage in the harming, hunting, or killing of any primate within Akpugoeze and Inyi land shall be guilty of the Primate Rights Law,” says the law.
The offender will then be apprehended by police, tried in a court of law and, if found guilty, either sentenced to two months’ imprisonment with an option of N50,000 fine or sentenced to four months in prison with an option of N100,000 fine.
To draw attention to the plight of primates, the Oji River government has initially focused on the Akpugoeze and Inyi communities given that these communities have, to some degree, long protected certain monkey species due to cultural and traditional beliefs.
For example, Akpugoeze harborus the endangered Sclater’s monkey, a species endemic to southeastern Nigeria. Due to long-standing cultural beliefs, Sclater’s monkey is not killed or harmed by most people from the three communities comprising Akpugoeze (Akpugoeze Autonomous Community, Akpugoeze-Ugwu Autonomous Community, and Akpugoeze-Agbada Autonomous Community). However, some still hunt and kill monkeys in Akpugoeze.
In a report released in May 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent intergovernmental body comprising over 130 governments, announced that nature is declining globally at rates unmatched in human history. In addition, the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the planet now likely.
The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is said to be the most comprehensive ever completed. Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over the past three years, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors, the report assesses changes over the past five decades. Findings in the report show that about one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.
Primates are notably vulnerable to hunting pressure and habitat loss and degradation – and thus vulnerable to extinction. According to the IUCN Red List, of the 450 species of primate in the world, 269 are threatened (meaning that they are classified as critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable). This means that 60% of all primates are at risk.