Wednesday 26th June 2019
Wednesday, 26th of June 2019
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Nigeria’s wildlife trade and threats to conservation

“I am a hunter, I supply fresh wild animals like pangolins, big snakes, antelopes, wild cats, etc.”

This tweet on January 15, 2019, by Onayemi Temitope (@trotsky27), generated a massive online buzz, especially on Twitter where it had over 5,000 engagements. Many called out this young man and labelled his action “wicked” and “punishable”, while others praised him highly for his courage and bravery.

pangolins
The Pangolin

No doubt, wildlife trade remains a very controversial subject on the African continent, perhaps across the world. World Economic Forum asserts that with an annual upper income of $23 billion, wildlife trade is the fourth most lucrative global crime after drugs, humans and arms. While the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is clear about international trade, with emphasis on sustainability, we must further accept that poaching of wildlife resources in Nigeria is largely unchecked, contributing to Nigeria’s rapid biodiversity loss.

While some very wealthy folks and greedy businessmen are keen on exploiting these resources at the expense of sustainability, the hunters – mostly stack illiterate in local communities – are paid only 3% of the total income, just enough to keep them poor and fuel their thirst to hunt more fauna.

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Having carried out numerous wildlife field studies, first-hand interviews with hunters and with a few publications about wildlife – education, trade and conservation in Nigeria, I found Mr. Onayemi Temitope’s case completely different. Onayemi Temitope Timothy is a graduate of Sociology and Anthropology from the University of Benin, with a second degree (Masters) in Sociology (Major – Criminology) from the University of Ibadan. Four years after his graduation, having remained unemployed, Temitope took to wildlife hunting and trading, first as a recreative activity, then as a source of financial stability.

I asked Temitope how often he hunts and what his average kill rate is. “Presently, I don’t really live in Sagamu (the hunting location) but any time I am around, I’ll go hunting with other people. I can’t put a figure to an average kill rate, especially because I don’t hunt every day. The truth is that the recent kill rate has greatly declined and is now typically very low. Sometimes we can get just one snake, sometimes, one Pangolin or just one grass cutter. There are times we don’t even come across any at all,” he replied.

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Education is the bedrock of human actions and it snowballs into our actions and inactions. At Wildlife of Africa Conservation Initiative, my team and I have always laid emphasis on Wildlife Education and Conservation using various platforms, formal (schools and universities), informal (communities, social and religious groups) and online advocacy.

My chat with Temitope was very insightful, I was least surprised when Mr. Temitope truthfully confided that, before now, it never felt awkward hunting wild animals – endangered species inclusive.

“Till recently, I never knew most of those animals are endangered, threatened or vulnerable. I used to believe that if humans don’t kill them, higher mammals will or they will just die a natural death and since they procreate more than humans, we cannot exhaust them. It was the Twitter response after my tweet that made me know Pangolins are endangered species. I also got to know some wild animals were of concern to the Federal Ministry of Environment, the Nigerian National Park and State Governments,” he said.

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Mr. Felix Abayomi of Wildlife of Africa Conservation Initiative also explained the roles of CITES and IUCN list. His words: “Now, I see things in a different light. Ever since, I have tried to protect Pangolins, as well as other wildlife species. Today, I can tell the difference between conserving and hunting and I am able to create a balance and educate others too.”

In Nigeria, as with other developing countries, the present needs of the people come first and “availability is affordability”. Hence, prioritising the conservation of Nigeria’s wildlife resource would mean a series of inputs.

As a member state, Nigeria would have to revisit and adopt Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) guidelines; interest stakeholders, development partners and private sectors will consistently have to lobby and influence the government’s political will at all levels; most importantly, there is a striking need to provide lots of other environmental-friendly economic options/job opportunities that could convert poachers and hunters to conservationists and researchers.

By ‘Seyifunmi Adebote

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