By Chinyere Omeire
Thirty years ago, Nigeria’s zoological gardens and parks were among the best in Africa.
During that period, the University of Ibadan Zoological Gardens; the Yankari Game Reserves, Bauchi; the Jos Zoo and Wildlife Park and the Old Oyo National Park were the delight of tourists.
Today, however, the story is somewhat different, as the country’s wildlife parks have suffered a lot of neglect due to factors such as poaching and poor funding.
The management of the wildlife parks has not been able to replace aged and dead animals due to paucity of funds; while the cages of many zoological gardens across the country were empty with no animals.
Mr Wale Odeyemi, the Head of South West National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism, bemoaned the pathetic state of wildlife parks and zoological gardens across the country.
``About 30 years ago, Nigeria’s zoological gardens were the best in Africa.
``Nigeria’s zoological gardens were then a major revenue earner in the tourism industry.
``The lack of maintenance of the animals has adversely affected major zoos across the country,’’ he said.
Odeyemi said that inadequate budgetary allocations, lack of maintenance and illegal killing of animals were some of the major setbacks of the zoos.
``Some states could not allocate enough money to maintain the animals. Therefore, the animals were not well fed and they eventually died,’’ he said.
Odeyemi suggested that all tiers of government should make adequate budgetary provisions for the rehabilitation of existing zoos in their domains, while setting up new ones.
Mr Yakubu Kolo, the Conservator of Kainji Lake National Park, New Bussa, Niger, noted that animals like elephants were fast disappearing from the parks.
According to him, inadequate funding is the major factor responsible for the extinction of some animals in the parks.
``Adequate funding is the key to adequate management of wildlife conservation.
``There is need to replace some of the animals that have gone into extinction at the Kainji Lake Park and other wildlife parks in the country.
``The funds will also facilitate the transportation of animals from distant places to the parks.
``It is, however, very important to make concerted efforts to stamp out poaching.
``It is also important that water does not dry up in the parks during the dry season, while providing the types of food required by the animals,’’ he said.
Besides, Kolo called for cooperation between the communities where wildlife parks were located and the management of the parks.
He said that such collaboration would stop poaching and illegal trade in animal products such as elephant’s tusks that were used in the production of ivory.
Kolo urged government to equip the rangers with adequate patrol vehicles and modern communications equipment to enable them to protect the parks efficiently.
He also called for the training and re-training of the rangers to improve their skills in wildlife management.
However, Mr Lanre Awoseyin, the National Coordinator, Nigerian Hotels Association, said that adequate wildlife conservation would boost tourism development and attract more tourists.
He noted that Nigeria had eight national parks, unlike some African countries like Kenya and South Africa which had 52 and 56 games reserves respectively.
Awoseyin underscored the need to improve wildlife conservation in Nigeria, as part of efforts to boost the country’s tourism potential.
``Adequate funding of wildlife conservation would enhance its development, while generating more employment opportunities for the people.
``Nigeria is naturally endowed to have good game reserves which could attract tourists and boost its economy, if properly funded and managed,’’ he said.
Awoseyin, however, suggested that the activities of farmers, who had encroached deeply into the demarcated areas mapped out as game reserves, ought to be checked so as to preserve the existing reserves.
He urged the government to educate farmers around game reserves to desist from bush burning because of its adverse effects on wildlife.
``Apart from the economic benefits of a viable wildlife park, it also beautifies the environment and preserves nature, thereby attracting lovers of beauty and nature,’’ he said.
Awoseyin stressed that as part of efforts to tackle the menace of wildlife poaching, the Federal Government should review the jail term for poachers from one month to five years.
He said that such review would serve as a deterrent to potential poachers, while saving the nation’s wildlife from extinction and making game reserves more viable.
``The existing punishment, which gives an offender one month jail term with an option of fine, should be extended to five years jail term, just like what obtains in Kenya and South Africa,’’ he said.
Awoseyin reiterated that the law prohibiting poaching of wildlife was not stringent enough, adding that tougher sanctions ought to be imposed on offenders.
He also noted that Nigerians’ taste for ``bush meat’’ had somewhat encouraged poachers to continue illegal killing of wildlife.
He underscored the need to regulate and reduce the consumption of ``bush meat’’ so as to forestall a situation where some species of wild animals would go into extinction.
The tourism expert also advised the government to improve the security arrangements put in place for existing game reserves, while demarcating more areas for wildlife conservation.
Awoseyin stressed that if the games reserves were well-managed, they would be able to earn more foreign exchange for the country.
Nevertheless, Mrs Sophia Anyafulu, a lecturer in Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, advised all tiers of government to develop zoological parks in their areas, while educating the people on the usefulness of animals in the ecosystem.
She attributed illegal killing of wild animals to the lack of knowledge of the importance of these animals by residents of various communities, especially farmers.
``However, government should from time to time import different species of animals for continued existence of the animals,’’ she said.
All the same, conservationists urge the government to initiate decisive measures to address the menace of poaching in the national parks.
They also advise the government to demarcate more areas for wildlife conservation, as part of calculated efforts to boost ecotourism in the country.