Ending Wildlife Poaching, Smuggling In Nigeria
Yusuf Babalola, Leadership
March 5, 2023
In Nigeria, the conservation of wildlife has been a herculean task because
they are seen as bush meat while foreigners, especially the Asians, see
them as cash cow and recipe for traditional medicines that cure certain
Also, the increased demand for trophies and traditional medicines have made
poachers slaughter some of Africa’s most endangered species at
unprecedented rates. The wildlife include Pangolins, Elephants, Rhinos
Experts have, however, warned that these animals could go the way of Asia’s
wild tiger population, which has dwindled from around 100,000 to a few
thousand over the past century.
For instance, in February, 2022, Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), seized
839.40 kilograms of pangolin scales and 145 kilograms of elephant ivory
leading to arrests and seizure of the contraband.
Also, in same week, acting on local intelligence, the Vietnamese Customs
seized 6.2 tonnes of pangolin scales and 456 kilograms of elephant ivory, a
shipment from Lagos, in Da Nang.
However, to end continued poaching of wildlife and smuggling of endangered
species through Nigeria, a foundation, Wild Africa Fund, called for
sufficient enforcement, saying Nigeria need to intensify effort towards
ensuring that the other West African countries stop using the country as
the transit route for ivory and pangolin scales.
Speaking, the the founder and President of Wild Africa Fund, Peter Knights,
said the target was to overcome the challenges and make the Nigerian
environment conducive for wildlife, saying Nigeria has become the epicentre
of illegal wildlife trafficking in Africa.
He said, “Specifically, we are very interested in Nigeria because it has
become, as you know, the epicentre of illegal wildlife trafficking in
Africa with the ivory and pangolins. The seizures that Customs have made
have been some of the biggest seizures ever in Africa.
“At the same time, we see that there is a lot of concern from the
government and people of Nigeria and we think it’s going to be possible to
turn things around here. So that in two or three years, Nigeria will be at
the cutting edge of fighting this problem as opposed to being the bad guys
of the moment.
“And so we’ve started last year with wild day and the biggest awareness
programme ever on the African continent about wildlife trafficking and many
of your publications have been part of this. We’ve had religious leaders
support us. We’ve had the minister as an ambassador and so really trying to
bring people together to solve this problem.
“We will later this year be doing a survey. If you remember we did a survey
on the bushmeat trade, to begin with. We’re going to do a follow-up survey
to see how it’s going. But all I can say is that the response from the
media and the ambassadors has been incredible. You know, we have so many
different television channels, newspapers, and print that’s gone out there.
“The campaign has been everywhere. And we’ve got a fantastic range of
ambassadors we just mentioned. So we’ve been delighted and impressed by the
takeoff and the enthusiasm. At the same time, we’ve had a very positive
reaction from the government agencies. So Customs were engaged in a sniffer
dog programme now.
“And obviously Customs has been very active in making seizures. And we’ve
seen new legislation pending from the Ministry of Environment. So I think
it’s been a really positive response. And we’re hoping that within the next
18 months or so this is going to be a massive transformation, not just in
what happens here in Nigeria, but also in the international perception of
Nigeria. Seeing that the country is taking all these steps to combat this
problem is tremendously good for the reputation of Nigeria internationally.”
Challenges With Wildlife
“Well, there are huge challenges because firstly, Nigerian wildlife is
highly endangered. Less than 50 Lions left, and less than 500 elephants. So
the big challenge is, can we move that back up again, to sustainable
populations? And I think for me, the dream is to actually have national
parks in Nigeria, where you can go and see a lion you can go and see an
elephant. That can be a tourism industry. And that has been doing a lot of
work in Rwanda.
“They have rebuilt their national park. They’ve put back rhinos, giraffes,
and other animals and now they have a good tourism industry so it’ll take
time and it takes money and resources. But at the end of it, it can create
a lot of jobs through tourism, hotel jobs, taxi driver jobs, and restaurant
jobs and I think that would be a huge boon for tourism here in Nigeria
because there’s amazing music in Nigeria.
“There’s an amazing art. There’s amazing dance, but right now there’s no
wildlife element. And many tourists coming to Africa like to see a wildlife
element. So if Nigeria can rebuild that piece, I think it can really help
the tourism industry take off.”
Little Or No Prosecution
Knights maintained that their interest in the country is because Nigeria is
the economic superpower on the continent of Africa. He noted that Nigeria
is by far the largest economy and a lot of the trades come through Lagos.
He regretted that the country has not been able to prosecute any trafficker
despite the level of seizure being made by Customs.
“So Lagos is like a transportation hub. But historically, there haven’t
been any prosecutions. People have done it and Customs have made seizures,
which are all credit to Customs, but no one has been prosecuted. No one has
gone to jail. They’ve just had this stuff taken away. And so hopefully,
there’s new legislation which should be introduced soon, we’ll combat that
where people are actually being prosecuted, and what we’ve seen in other
parts of the world and once people are actually going to jail and there’s a
real risk of doing this crime, it goes down dramatically, and also once the
public is more aware.
“People are on the lookout and people are reporting wildlife crime. And so,
I think it’s because of the size of the economy, but also because it has
been historically weak on the laws. But that can all change very quickly.”
New Legislation On Wildlife
Knights maintained that in the coming weeks, the ministry of environment
will submit new legislation to the National Assembly that would help in
strengthening wildlife conversation and preservation in the country. He
said, “The news coming up probably next week and we’ll let you know as soon
as this happens, but in all likelihood, there is going to be new
legislation introduced to parliament to combat wildlife trafficking, and to
address this issue of Nigeria being the hub for illegal activity.
“The challenge is that the extant laws have been somewhat problematic, and
it’s quite hard to prosecute because the law has some issues. That’s why
this new law is needed. I think Customs have done an amazing job with their
seizures. You’ve seen all those seizures and it means Customs are doing
“They haven’t been able to prosecute in many cases. And that’s why the new
law is needed. So I think with the new law, they can do even better, but
they haven’t done a good job on that prosecutions, hardly any prosecutions
historically in Nigeria on wildlife crime. With this new law, we believe
they will be able to do prosecutions, and this will help reduce the illegal
bushmeat trade. It will help stop Nigeria from being the centre for
smuggling and we hope it will actually make Nigeria a regional leader in
this. There’s definitely the capacity there within those agencies, but they
need the right laws.
“We are trying to get sniffer dogs for the Customs. The sniffer dogs have
been very effective. They can detect ivory and pangolin scales even inside
containers without opening the container and this will make it a lot
riskier to send things through Nigeria, and we think that it will have a
big impact. So there’s a lot going on with those agencies in terms of
training, in terms of better laws, in terms of equipment like sniffer dogs
that are going to make them, hopefully, the best in the region on these
Knights said the Wild Africa Fund is determined to ensure that reduces the
consumption of bushmeat among the people. He said, “Although the animals
are been taken in the villages, the consumption is in the cities. The
illegal bushmeat consumption, a lot of it is in the cities and that’s what
we’re really targeting those in the cities. In Asia, we try to educate the
buyers not to buy the ivory because the demand is what drives it, but
people are hunting for it in the villages just to supply the people here.
“For people in the villages, there may not be many alternatives, but for
the people in the city, there are many alternatives. Buying illegal
bushmeat is more expensive than buying chicken or beef. So, those people
have a choice and those are the people we are really targeting with the
education at the end.
“We are trying to use the outreach through radio more than television to
reach those in the villages to understand the realities of the situation.
So, for example, pangolins only have one baby every 18 months, so they
can’t if you hunt them all the time they’ll disappear, simply disappeared,
and they can’t sustain ongoing hunting. So that kind of education, I think
can help people in the village to understand there are some animals that
you shouldn’t be hunting because they just won’t sustain it. There are
other things that breed very quickly, like grass cutters but there are some
animals which if you hunt them, will disappear.”