By Ibraheem Hamza Muhammad
From Gwange area of Maiduguri, he came to Abuja in search of greener pastures as an estate agent, but ended up a trader of wildlife. He opened up to Weekly Trust about the ups and downs of his sometimes-wild business.
Abubakar Dogo's real intention was to come to Abuja as a seasonal gatecrasher on estate business or anything profitable. Little did he know he was going to delve into the kind of business that involves wild animals. He soon learnt that the dealing in wildlife is the signature of affluence among those who can afford it.
"We get supplied from either Cameroon or Niger Republic," he revealed. "It is very risky running such a trade in francophone countries because it has been outlawed. But we smile when we cross the border into Nigeria where the trade is not banned."
The animals Dogo and his colleagues import include Chimpanzees, Pythons, Hippopotamus, Elephants, Giraffes, Impalas, Antelopes and birds like Peacocks, Eagles, parrots and sometimes vultures. He explained that they get their supply from hunters who trap, catch and inform them to come over and buy. "Despite the challenges we face in bringing them in, we rejoice as long as they are alive and kicking," he said.
Listing the animals he has sold, Dogo intimated that he has sold a lion cub, a tiger, a bull, a giraffe, camels, an Antelope, Impala as well as many exotic birds to wealthy clients. He even hinted that he is patronized by top-level government officials and politicians. Dogo told Weekly Trust that even the Aso-Rock Zoo contacts him and make specific requests, most times for exotic birds, to add to their collection. "Their veterinary unit has experts who examine every animal before they are bought," he said.
Answering a question about lions, Dogo said: "When we get cubs, we're free around them until they start growing claws and become aggressive at about three years of age. That is when we confine them to cages until they are bought."
"Male and female cubs go for three million naira and above, while an eagle for about half a million naira. But the cubs cannot be kept in a city like Abuja where their upkeep is expensive. Buyers mostly keep them in villages and feed them with live goats or chickens because they like to kill their prey before eating them fresh. However, when they are hungry, they eat whatever they are fed with, which could be either meat or intestines. But the aggressive Hyena is usually not choosy and eats every type of meat, carcass or bones it gets."
Dogo refuted what he called 'the myth' that Hyenas are possessed by evil spirits. "We buy, keep and sell them to any willing buyer, anytime and anywhere. We don't fear them but we are very careful how we deal with them."
Dogo continued: "However, birds like parrots can talk after three months from the time they were captured especially if there are children in the house who talk and play with them in the cage. Parrots record in their memory and repeat what they hear the children say. They do not like a lot of water, but like sugarcane, beans and groundnuts. A grown up one may or may not mimic or talk at all." He explained that they keep newly acquired animals at home before getting a buyer. "Even when there is an order for one, we leave it to rest for days before we deliver. This is to ascertain it is in sound health."
Buyers, Dogo said, range from Army officers, police and others. They then hire experts to teach their trainers how to take care of the animals, while those suited for ponds, like swans, geese and ducks, are allowed to thrive in their preferred habitat. Dogo said he has never been harmed. "With little expertise three of us can overpower an adult Ostrich and haul it into a car. But I once narrowly escaped a crocodile attack." However, part of the challenge in the business is the transportation of big animals, which is costly. "Also, when an animal that is ordered dies in transit, we snap the picture and show the person that made the booking. This is done so there is evidence and the loss is then shared. Again, sometimes the skin is carefully removed and sold to collectors."
The wildlife trader however advised the government to establish a zoo in Abuja for children, for fun and educational purposes, adding that the animals in some private parks are not enough for the teeming population of Abuja. He wrapped up on the gains of the trade, revealing that in the eight years of being in the business, he has bought land, built a house, married and owns a shop.