Ending Illegal Trafficking of Endangered Animals - THISDAY
JANUARY 13, 2022
Nigeria has emerged as the top transit point in the world for illegal ivory and pangolin scale trafficking from Africa to Asia. Between 2016 to 2019, over half of the pangolin scales seized globally came from Nigeria, Ugo Aliogo reports
A survey by WildAid has stated that the growing appetite for bush meat among urban residents increases the risk of zoonotic disease transmission, and threatens wildlife populations in Nigeria and its surrounding countries. The survey also explained that the consumption also overlaps with the illegal trade networks, fueling the trade in protected species like elephants and pangolins. While studies have shown that bush meat consumption in Nigeria is influenced by a number of factors such as taste, health, and culture, there is little information on the attitudes, awareness, preferences, and reservations of the public in major cities such as Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Calabar.
The survey explained that 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases in the last decade have originated in animals, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Outbreaks of Ebola, HIV, and SARS have been linked to the wild or bush meat trade, with COVID-19 also potentially spreading through this activity and causing tremendous health and economic impacts.
The survey remarked that Nigeria has a flourishing bush meat markets in major cities selling both legal and illegal bush meat, adding that the trade remains largely unregulated.
The survey espoused that the process of trapping and transporting wild animals in stressful and unhygienic conditions in which they come into contact with people and domesticated animals greatly increases the risks of new disease introduction and transmission.
The survey further argued that a commercial trade serving large urban centers poses a significantly higher risk and a larger rate of outbreak than subsistence use in rural areas, stating that the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed over 11,00 people3.
“Several governments launched large-scale mass media campaigns that discouraged people from consuming bush meat. Consumers quickly adjusted their preferences away from bush meat, especially fruit bats and monkeys6, and switched to alternatives such as fish. Bush meat sellers complained bitterly about the poor sales during the epidemic; however, by 2018 sales of bush meat had rebounded in Nigeria,” the survey noted.
Beyond the survey, it is worrisome to state that Nigeria has no surviving Cheetahs, Rhinos, or Giraffes, and more than 50 lions, 100 Gorillas, 500 elephants and 2,300 Chimpanzees left in the wild. Despite efforts, poaching for body parts and meat along with habitat loss from deforestation, infrastructure development, and agriculture expansion threaten wildlife in the country.
In 2022, WildAid decided to raise the stakes in the fight against illegal bush meat consumption with the launching of a massive public awareness conservation campaign in the country to reduce demand for illegal bush meat in major centers, support enforcement activities to tackle the illegal wildlife trade and raise awareness of the disappearing wildlife using.
Federal Government Commitment
Nigeria is endowed with amazing biodiversity and houses comparable levels of endemic species due to a complex topography and wide variety of habitats, which include the freshwater swamp forest, mangrove forest and coastal vegetation, lowland forest, derived savannah, guinea savannah, Sudan/Sahel savannah, and montane ecosystems. There is also the unique vegetation of the Jos plateau, as well as the montane vegetation of the isolated highlands of Mambilla and Obudu. Each of these ecosystems has its own unique characteristics of wild fauna, flora and a huge collection of marine and freshwater aquatic species.
Speaking on the development, the Minister for State for Environment, Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor, stated that statistics shown that Nigeria has an endemic flora of 91 species belonging to 44 families.
Ikeazor further explained that according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN) Red list of 2013, Nigeria has a total of 309 threatened species namely: Mammals (pangolins, lions, elephants, manatees), Birds (grey parrots and the black crowned crane, which is our National Bird), Reptiles, Amphibians, Fishes, Molluscs, and Plants (Costus spectabilis, our National Plant).
She remarked that some of the country’s biodiversity sites includes: the seven National Parks (Old Oyo, Cross River, Gashaka-Gumti, Okomu, Chad Basin, Kainji Lake, and Kamuku); 27 important bird areas, which are found in all our National Parks, as well as 60% of our 11 Ramsar Sites (such as the Hadejia-Nguru); two World Heritage sites of Sukur Kingdom and Osun Osogbo Grove; 994 Forest Reserves in the 36 States of Nigeria; and 32 Game Reserves.
She stated: “In year 2020, Nigeria secured three additional Biosphere Reserves, bringing the total number of Biosphere Reserves to three, as approved by UNESCO: the Omo Biosphere Reserve in Ogun State, Oban Biosphere Reserve and Okwango Bioshphere Reserve, both in Cross Rivers State; and Hadejia-Nguru-Bade Biosphere Reserve, straddling Yobe and Jigawa States.”
She espoused that biodiversity plays a vital role in the economy, ecology and social lives, adding that it is a source of food, fibre, domestic and commercial products, medicine, and for aesthetics and culture, agriculture, knowledge, and industrial processes.
According to her, “You will agree with me that our survival and overall wellbeing depends on how sustainably the environment and its biodiversity are managed. However, there are serious environmental challenges that have led to the loss of biodiversity and threaten our very existence. Habitat change, over-exploitation, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change are the drivers of biodiversity loss.
“The alarming rate of over-exploitation of these natural resources calls for urgent, increased and proactive actions to reverse this trend. Poaching, possessing, taking, trading (supply or selling) and consumption has put Nigeria on the spotlight of wildlife crime. Collaborative efforts with organizations such as WildAid would help to address this menace.
“The campaign by WildAid represents one of such actions bearing in mind the quantum of impacts wildlife crime has left on our biodiversity and the ecosystem. If we all join forces in this laudable initiative, quite a lot would be achieved in rescuing and protecting these animals most of which are already facing extinction. We have the duty to spread the awareness that the more these animals are allowed to live in the wild, the better the planet would be for all of us.
“Nigeria as a Signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) commits to the implementation and adherence to the CITES laws and regulations as well as to other global agreements, conventions and treaties focused on conservation of biodiversity.
“Nigeria has also played a vital role in the creation of the West Africa Strategy on Combating Wildlife Crime, in its position as Chair of the Steering Committee responsible for establishing this important regional strategy. We will not relent in our resolve to regularly review, develop and implement the appropriate policy, legal and institutional framework as necessary just as we are taking a bold step towards ensuring adequate implementation of the recently validated National Strategy on Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime in Nigeria, as supported by UNODC, which will be launched in March this year.
“Being conscious of the multi-stakeholder nature of the fight against wildlife crime, the Federal Government has continued to maintain collaborative partnerships with the key stakeholders within and outside the country. WildAid is one of such great Partners that have not only complemented our efforts but also proved that the efficacy of public campaign and awareness creation is inevitable in the quest to combat the menace.
“The Department of Forestry under the Federal Ministry of Environment will continue to embark on public awareness and sensitization campaign on CITES and Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed species of flora and fauna, biodiversity conservation, environmental protection and sustainable development through International Days Celebrations, Formation of Young Foresters Clubs in Schools as well as Community Outreach Programmes.
“We will be reviewing our National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan immediately after the second part of the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity in the second quarter of this year. The update will require integrating biodiversity into national programmes aimed at reducing poverty and developing a secure future in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Nigeria is taking a leadership role in seeking the adoption of bold international commitments for the recovery of biodiversity and for the expansion of protected areas to at least 30% by 2030 with matching funding commitments in the on-going negotiation process of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity. This will provide opportunities for investments in Nigeria’s ecosystems while preserving ecosystem services for future generations.”
The Role of Lagos State
On his part, the Commissioner for Health, Lagos State, Prof. Akin Abayomi, said humanity can no longer stand by in silence while the animal and plant resources in the forest and other biomes are being exploited, abused and depleted.
“It is very important we stand together to speak against environmental degradation and wildlife destruction in Nigeria before it is too late. Extinction means forever. Every day, countless rare plant and animal species go into extinction. Destruction of all types of ecosystems and lack of wildlife conservation measures is a serious biosecurity threat that leads to increase in likelihood of natural disasters, global warming and a significant change in food production,” he said.
He further stated that the forest is also a natural reservoir for many unknown diseases, adding that but a healthy ecosystem keeps its self in check and cleans the environment.
He posited that the society needs to learn to respect the immense functions and roles that the wilderness systems play in protecting everyone, noting that wild animals, insects, birds, reptiles and amphibians belong in their eco habitat where they provide these protective roles.
In his words: “Destruction of the forest disrupts symbiotic harmonies and increases migration of wild animals and this leads to increasing contact between wild species and urban dwellers causing rising cases of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases of animal origin.
“Deforestation that leads to loss of our flora and fauna resources is one of the main environmental challenges confronting Nigeria. Food and Agriculture Organization FAO of the UN (2010) reported that Nigeria has the largest deforestation rates in the world with loss of 60% of its primary forest. The annual rate of deforestation in Nigeria is approximately 3.5%, which is between 350,000 and 400,000 hectares per year. From 1990 to 2010 Nigeria nearly halved their amount of Forest Cover, moving from 17,000 to 9,000 hectares. Forests convert carbon into oxygen, cool down the environment, provide protection for numerous plant and animal species and most importantly create rain and fresh water and replenishes our lakes, streams and rivers. The combination of extremely high deforestation rates, increased temperatures and decreasing rainfall are all contributing to the desertification and drying out of the country. Desertification leads to loss of livelihood for millions of people and this in turn leads to competition for resources and conflict.
“The carbon emissions from deforestation is also said to account for 87% of the total carbon emissions of the country. So instead of sinking carbon and reducing green house gases which leads to global warming and climate change we are actually increasing the release of carbon in the atmosphere that has been stored in our forests for hundreds of years. According to the 2010 Global Forest Resources Assessment, deforestation releases nearly one billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere per annum.
“While the United Nations recommends a minimum forest cover of 26% for countries, Nigeria’s forest cover is said to be less than 6%. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) situation analysis on West Africa also reported serious and rapid wildlife depletion in the region. IUCN reported that about 10% of amphibians, birds and mammals species native to West Africa are threatened with extinction, as well as about 17% of the more than 1600 fresh water fish species. These statistics represent a present danger for Nigeria and all stakeholders should work towards salvaging Nigeria’s forest and environment.”
Causes of Biodiversity loss in Nigeria
The forests in Nigeria are under threat from many different kinds of human activities, from directly destroying habitat to spreading invasive species and diseases. Most ecosystems are facing multiple threats. Each new threat puts additional stress on already weakened ecosystems and their wildlife. Some of the causes of deforestation and wildlife loss in Nigeria are listed below:
Bush Burning: Bush burning involves the removal of forest by using fire to burn out the existing vegetation. The burning can either be caused by accidental or intentional actions. In most rural areas of Nigeria, hunters set forests on fire in order to force the animals to flee their hiding places, or in some cases this can happen accidentally especially during the dry season.
Poaching of wildlife for bush meat and export: Over exploitation of wildlife for eating and illegal trafficking is one of the biggest threats to biodiversity loss in Nigeria. Wildlife meat is a major source of protein and livelihood to many families in Nigeria. Uncontrolled killing and poaching of wildlife for meat has lead to serious depletion in wildlife in Nigerian forest.
Nigeria is also a major player in the global illegal wildlife trafficking. Illegal trade is decimating populations of elephants, pangolins, rhinoceros, sharks, chimpanzees, gorillas, and numerous tree species in Nigeria.
Unregulated Logging: Logging refers to the largescale felling of trees mostly for commercial purposes such as the manufacture of paper and furniture. In a regulated environment, this activity would not be much of a problem as loggers are compelled to plant more trees than they cut down. However, in an unregulated environment, not only do loggers cut trees down indiscriminately, they also do not plant to replace the felled trees. Unfortunately, research done by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) shows that much of the logging done today is carried out illegally.
Rapid Urbanization: The quest to make more land available for roads, airports, industrial areas and housing to cater for the ever increasing urban population in Nigeria has resulted in the invasion of hitherto virgin forests. The existing vegetation is either cut down or burnt, while the land is utilized for urban developmental purposes. This is most visible in rapidly growing urban areas in Nigeria such as Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt.
Droughts and Soil Erosion: Deforestation can occur if the forests are starved of rainfall for long periods of time as this can cause the trees to wither away and die. Severe soil erosion where large portions of soil are washed away can also result in rapid deforestation.
Agricultural Activities: The population of Nigeria has been in a steady increase, and there is a dire need to provide food to cater for this increasing population. This needs to provide more food has led to an increase in agricultural activity which in turn puts pressure on the available arable land. A vast majority of forest is destroyed annually either through burning or logging to create more land for food production as well as the creation of ranches and grazing land for cattle. Another significant effect of agricultural activities is that the natural nutrients in the land are depleted and this makes it quite difficult to grow new trees when the farmers move on from the land.