By Martins Abochol
Worried by the threat of extinction of many animal species worldwide, the United Nations declared March 3 of every year as World Wildlife Day. The day was set aside by the world body to raise awareness on threat to the world's wild fauna and flora.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in 2004 rolled out a “Red List of Threatened Animals,” while Nigeria has many of the endangered species, listed as vulnerable.
While Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), of wild fauna and flora; poachers operate almost freely within the nation’s protected game reserves.
The reserves are Yankari, Bauchi State; Okomu, Edo; Gashaka-Gumti National Park in Adamawa and Taraba states; Cross River National Park; Omo Forest Reserve in Ogun.
The Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), has raised an alarm over the high level of poaching at the
Yankari Games Reserve.
It warned that if not checked, the reserve would be empty of animals, as meat of elephants, roan, waterbuck and buffalo were freely found in the surrounding markets of Yankari.
It is on record that Nigeria was suspended from CITES in 2008, while two gorillas illegally trafficked into Nigeria were intercepted in Kano in 2003.
The two gorillas were sent back to Cameroon, while international and local conservationists accused Nigeria of not adequately enforcing the CITES convention.
Nigeria was once said to have the most diverse population of monkeys and apes in the world, but as its forests have dwindled many animals have been hunted to extinction.
Nigeria's remaining gorilla is the Cross River gorilla that lives in the rugged mountainous Nigeria-Cameroon border.
In the early 1980s, there were about 1,500 gorillas in the area, but in 2003 the United Nations Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP), put the figure at less than 250.
An environmentalist, Mr Patrick Ukura, said the Federal Government should ensure adequate protection of the remaining wildlife, especially elephants and gorillas.
Ukura, who is Managing Director, IF Environment, also said that everything should also be done to remove Nigeria from the list of major players in the illegal trade in endangered wildlife.
``We also believe that government needs to act fast if we are to avert the consequences of a 2008 USAID study on Nigerian’s biodiversity, which says the nation faces extreme pressures on biodiversity and tropical forests.’’
Ukura said that the study urged the government to ``stem the over-harvesting and poaching of wildlife, while providing relevant information about the present status of most habitats and species.’’
According to the report, the government is expected to give information on ``protected areas as well as other key data that could ease the management of these natural resources,’’ he added.
Though efforts were made to preserve the nation’s wildlife through the establishment of game reserves, poachers with sophisticated weapons had managed to enter these `sanctuaries,’ killing even the endangered animals.
Former Minister of Environment Hadiza Mailafia, at a workshop held in Abuja, advised Nigerians to regard wild animals and plants as common heritage for the present and future generations.
Mailafia advocated the review of the Wildlife Protection Act, to ensure the survival of endangered species.
"I urge you to take cognizance of the place of wild animals and plants of Nigeria as our common heritage, and an entitlement also of the unborn generation of Nigerians.
"I also urge you to come up with strict regulations for trading in such resources so as to guarantee their survival in perpetuity.
``There is need for due diligence and patriotism in this assignment, against the backdrop that these wild species constitute the base of rural livelihoods and the safety net."
Even before the review of the Wildlife Protection Act, the National Environmental Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency (NESREA), has warned those trading on endangered wildlife to stop the business, describing it as unlawful.
Dr Umar Maiwada, Director of Environmental Quality Control in NESREA, said that there was a law worldwide that prohibited people from dealing in any endangered wildlife.
``Hunting, trafficking or trading in this endangered wildlife may send anybody caught with it to jail, because Nigeria is a signatory to the convention that prohibited dealing on endangered species,’’ he said.
Maiwada said that it was a crime to deal in ivory, reptile skin and teeth, skin of cats and antelopes, and also to ``make crafts from them.’’
As suggested by experts and stakeholders, government should ensure enforcement of laws against poaching to save Nigeria’s wildlife from extinction.
Wildlife is an inheritance, which should be cherished and preserved.