Director-General, Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), Dr Muhtari Aminu-Kano, says the activities of forest poachers and illegal lumbers can make the country lose its unique flora (or vegetation) and fauna (or wildlife), if left unchecked.
Aminu-Kano made the claim in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at the Omo Elephant Forest Initiative at Area J4 in Ijebu-East Local Government Area, Ogun State.
The five-day programme is organised by NCF on field orientation training in conjunction with the Ogun State Ministry of Forestry for 120 newly recruited foresters and boundary guards at the forest reserve.
According to him, the endangered species have a declining population and very limited range aggravated by habitat loss, hunting, disease and threats of climate change.
Aminu-Kano called for a hands-on approach where more environmental law enforcement and manpower development through employment of more park rangers could help salvage Nigeria’s wildlife resources.
“Poaching is a major threat in these parts due to the culture of eating bush meat and not replenishing by rearing the meat we consume.
“We prefer just to go and harvest from the wild just to indulge our cravings not factoring that some animals we hunt down have a slow reproductive cycle of development.
“Some even go to the extent of bush-burning just to chase out animals to hunt and in the process destroy delicate and peculiar flora and fauna which are unique resources to us.
“These habitat degradations and over exploitation of wildlife is one of the major threats to forest and wildlife in Nigeria,” he said.
The conservation expert added that the NCF was looking to provide more protection for the critically endangered species unique to the country.
“Our major interest right now as an organisation is providing protection for the critically endangered ones, which are animals and plants that are unique to us as they can only be found in Nigeria and nowhere else.
“These are those we refer to as the endemics, those if they are wiped out means the world has lost the benefit of having those animals in existence hence, they be classified as extinct,” he said.
He listed the flagship species hunted for their value in the black market to include the West African lion, elephants, pangolins and the apes (monkeys, chimpanzees, baboons and gorillas).
He said that these animals had species peculiar to the Nigeria terrain and with very few populations at present, adding that they were necessary for examining the existence of other species in the forest.
“For example, if you wipe out an elephant population from a piece of forest, you are also wiping out a lot of other organisms because some organisms will depend on the dung of elephants to grow and survive.
“Some plant seeds, unless they are eaten by elephants and egested out will not germinate so those kind of key flagship species are also some of the ones we are concerned about,” Aminu-Kano said.
The NCF boss stressed the need for more park rangers known as forest guards in Nigeria and gave reasons why more hands needed to be employed considering the capacity gap between retiring veterans and new recruits.
“We have some capacity in forest management but not enough.
“We came from a period where we had highly trained foresters, but that generation are now in very senior positions and cannot be out in the field to do the actual work.
“Now we have more enthusiasm from youths who are embracing forest management coming out of schools without practical field experience hence the need to engage them.
“You need to make sure that you conserve what needs to be conserved and manage what needs to be managed better.
“If you conserve and manage your forest well it is a gold mine.
“The tourism aspect of it is underutilised as some countries grow the major part of their GDP from forest and wildlife conservation,” he said.
He described the Omo forest reserve, which links with the Shasha and Oluwa reserves in Ondo and Osun states as “very high-value forests because it is one of the few reserves where elephants and chimpanzees still exist.’’
A Senior Forester from Kenya Forest Service, Mr Chando Maghanga, who is among the facilitators of the forest management training, highlighted the threats posed by climate change on forest reserves.
“When the rains we anticipate during the planting season reduced or are not as frequent as we expected, this may impact the survival of the plants.
“The issue of forest fires may be escalated by the impact of the dry season with increase in droughts.
“The changes in weather conditions can also broaden the scope of disease spread as more cases spill over from the forests to the living communities,” he said.
Maghanga urged authorities to imbibe community engagement as coping mechanisms whereby farm owners living close to forest resources would be engaged as stakeholders in forest protection based on incentives.
“This is important as more people begin experiencing more crop failures, they could fall back on directly exploiting forest resources as a means of survival which could be detrimental,” he said.
Mr Dolapo Odulana, the Director, Non-Timber Forest Products, Ogun Ministry of Forestry, said that the NCF training focused on forest management, protection, community engagement and forest evaluation research.
He said that the newly recruited foresters had been mandated to enforce the law which required them to intercept or do some arrests regarding to those violating the environmental laws.
By Temitope Salami