Nigeria’s elephants and dwindling populations – hope for recovery?

There were recent releases of elephant ivory (846 kg) and pangolin scales (7.1 tons) and claws (4.6 kg) valued at $ 54 million in Lagos by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS). It is unclear whether the source of these broadcasts is domestic or foreign.

Nigeria is known as a hub for wildlife, and according to the report, this is the ninth seizure the Wildlife Justice Commission has assisted in the past three years. Nigeria is also a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This arrest came as no surprise to us conservationists in Nigeria as we recently met both the Conservator General of the Nigeria National Parks Service, Dr the Director General of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) during the celebration of International Biodiversity Day on May 22nd. , Professor Aliyu Jauro, during the webinar organized by the newly formed Coalition of Biodiversity Conservationists in Nigeria (CBCN) to intervene in Nigeria’s elephant crisis. In my talk, titled “We Are Part of the Solution,” I presented my study of the evolution of the elephant population in the Yankari Game Reserve, a recent study we conducted on the decline and conservation status of elephants and other large mammals. Information about personal and collective Observations from colleagues and friends who are actively involved in nature conservation.

In addition, we reiterated the most recent report published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on March 25, 2021. The report revealed that the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana) are now on the IUCN’s Red List of Endangered Species as critically endangered and critically endangered. It is worth noting that both species of the African elephant exist in Nigeria. The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) has reported that the greatest threat to African elephants today is wildlife crime, especially poaching for the illegal ivory trade. Elephants in Nigeria are at the same risk.

It is important to reflect on the critical role elephants play in the ecosystem, in the economy, and in our collective imagination around the world. Elephants help maintain suitable habitats for many other species. The WWF reports that up to 30% of tree species in Central African forests depend on elephants for spreading and germination.

Despite the great outcry from major international organizations like WWF, IUCN, Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) etc. over the decline in elephant populations, the threats to elephants remain.

The largest elephant population in Nigeria is said to be found in the Yankari Game Reserve in the state of Bauchi. A few years ago I carried out an analysis of the various elephant surveys that were carried out in Yankari to determine the evolution of the elephant population between 1964 and 2011. Although comparing the survey methods was challenging, the results showed that there were at least 361 elephants in 2011.

I have not seen any detailed surveys in Yankari since the last survey a decade ago. However, recent estimates by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) put around 100 savanna elephants remaining in Yankari, a decrease of 350 between 2006 and 2015.

In 2015-2018, I was hired by the government of Bauchi State as a consultant to update the reservation’s 30-year-old management plan. I’ve made several attempts to work with rangers to look for elephants, but to no avail – far from previous years.

Records also show human-wildlife conflict (HEC) prevalence in communities around Yankari, and we have seen crop raids by elephants, baboons, and other animals. My team and I have personally visited the local communities of Dimis and Mainamaji because of harvest raids. These negative interactions can lead to elephants being killed in retaliation, further increasing the threats to animals. A collar elephant was reportedly killed by local farmers in a community near Yankari in 2012 in retaliation for crop robbery.

Similar reports of forest elephant decline have also come from the Omo Forest Reserve and Okomu National Park further south, with records of only about 30 elephants at each location in recent studies. The EPI also recently raised concerns about the rapid decline in the elephant population in Nigeria after local hunters shot an elephant near Omo Forest in Ogun state. EPI added that this is the fourth elephant killed in two years.

Long-term management of these conflicts can only be achieved through a combination of a number of measures that address the drivers or causes of such conflicts and the social dynamics associated with them.

The relevant question is what can be done to protect elephant populations and other threatened species in Nigeria so that they can recover? The economies of several countries in Africa benefit greatly from the nature-based tourism industry. This is also possible in Nigeria if we promote species protection and ensure the survival of important animal species such as the elephant.

Perhaps one of the most urgent moves is a nationwide survey to determine the elephant population in Nigeria. We need to know the status of Nigeria’s elephants in order to design and develop appropriate conservation strategies. Central to the above is the need to build local capacities for the long-term sustainability of wildlife conservation in Nigeria. We see a good example at the AP Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI), which has produced an excellent harvest from conservationists over time.

An equally important step is identifying conservation goals and strategies for conserving these elephant populations to enable their recovery. This includes strengthening the management of protected areas. A USAID / Nigeria analysis of tropical forests and biodiversity in Nigeria recommends that “the Nigerian government … mobilize NGOs and other implementing partners to actively manage protected areas”.

There is a need to work collectively with government, media, business and industry, local and international NGOs, communities and traditional leaders, universities and research institutes, women and youth groups. It is also high time we pooled our know-how and gave Nigerian nature conservation experts the opportunity to contribute to the preservation of biodiversity. Dr. Mary Molokwu-Odozi, for example, Nigerian and Country Director of Fauna & Flora International (FF1), an international NGO, in Liberia. She led the development of the National Elephant Action Plan (NEAP) for Liberia, worked with the Liberia National Species Working Group, a network of conservationists in Liberia, and supported the approval of the NEAP by the former Liberian President. In Nigeria we have the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) and other local NGOs who work tirelessly to protect Nigerian wildlife. The newly formed Coalition for Biodiversity Conservationists of Nigeria (CBCN) consists of individuals and organizations with extensive experience and expertise in nature conservation. I believe that this crowd can be brought together to help save the elephants in Nigeria.

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In summary, it can be said that transparency and accountability from all who work to preserve Nigeria’s biodiversity are required. We can only reverse this downward trend in Nigeria’s elephant populations if we develop the right synergies.

Dr. Salamatu Fada is a Nigeria born conservationist and educator based in Bangor Gwynedd, United Kingdom. She is the Convener of Coalition for Biodiversity Conservationists of Nigeria

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