It is increasingly becoming impossible for people, mostly children of this current generation, to see some of the wide animals and birds they see in movies in real life, even when they visit famous national parks, conservation areas and zoos because some of the animals are facing extinction.
A visit to any of the zoos or national parks in Nigeria would convince someone that wide animals like lions, gorillas, chimpanzees, zebras, white tigers, white peacocks, polar bears, parrots, huge pythons and giant crocodiles have disappeared.
But one of the animals that are facing greater danger is the lion. As countries around the globe celebrate World Lions Day, today, August 10, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said lions in Nigeria are on the verge of extinction. In its recent report on lions in Nigeria, the WCS disclosed that more than 90 per cent of the lion’s original range has now been lost across Africa.
The WCS said the main threats facing lions today are habitat loss and degradation, reduction of wild prey and retaliatory and another illegal killing of lions. It said habitat loss has led to some populations becoming small and isolated, especially in West Africa. It is estimated that fewer than 50 lions are in Nigeria.
This decline is due to increasing human populations, and the spread of subsistence and commercial-scale agriculture; latterly, climate change is also playing a role, and corridors connecting populations are being lost due to the spread of development, agriculture, and large infrastructure projects. This has led to some populations becoming small and isolated, especially in West Africa.
In Nigeria, this precipitous decline is linked to severe depletion of their natural prey base due to hunting and habitat loss. With the loss of their natural prey lions have little option but to feed upon domestic livestock, the increase in a human-lion conflict inevitably results in their direct persecution – typically by poisoning livestock carcasses. At the same time, human population growth and agricultural expansion is causing an unprecedented influx of nomadic livestock into protected areas as alternative grazing reserves disappear.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, lions are a “vulnerable” species, meaning that their numbers could and should be higher. Currently, researchers estimate that there are between 30,000 and 100,000 lions left on earth. Without significant intervention, there is a chance that they could find themselves on the endangered list alongside other species most at risk of extinction.
While the WildAid said lions are now restricted to only two sites in Nigeria, Kainji Lake National Park and Yankari Game Reserve, with only 30 to 50 lions between them. It identified a new threat to the existence of lions in the country. It said the rise of lion bones being used to supply the demands of Asian traditional medicine and tiger bones as the new threat.
WildAid also called for effective enforcement of existing legal frameworks in the country in the protection of wildlife in Nigeria. For instance, Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of 1974. The country domesticated this agreement in the form of the Endangered Species (Control of Trade and Traffic) Act in 1985.
This was later amended to the extent that certain fines were elevated. Nigeria was assessed by the CITES legislative project in 2011 as having achieved Category 1 country status in terms of legislative compliance with CITES.
The country has also a party to the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC) since 20005. It later ratified the convention in June 2001. In terms of domestication, there is no standalone law governing organised crime. However, the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act of 2011 as amended makes participation in an organised criminal group, environmental crimes and ‘any other criminal act’ specified in any other legislation in Nigeria predicate offences for the purposes of money laundering prosecutions.
Despite all these conventions and legal frameworks, the country remains one of the transit points for illegal bush meat in West Africa. But experts believed that the country needs effective law enforcement and protected area management to ensure that rangers can do their job effectively, through focused ranger training programmes, provision of equipment, and ensuring that they are compensated adequately.
There is a need for conservation education to raise awareness within local communities, mostly those around the parks and conversation centres. Some of the groups involved in the preservation of wildlife in Nigeria are also advocating for the Federal Government to strengthen land tenure and grazing rights for local pastoralists, creation of grazing reserves, as well essential health and husbandry interventions to ensure livestock rearing is compatible with wildlife conservation.
The founder and president of WildAid, Peter Knights, said the group is doing a lot of campaigns in the country and all over the world about the plight of lions. He expressed concern that lions in Nigeria may disappear if the relevant authorities fail to take appropriate action.
Special day for lions
Knights said: “Every year on World Lions Day we celebrate probably the most iconic animal on the planet earth. Lions are symbols all over the world not just in Africa but the problem is that there are not many of them left. Globally, there are about 20,000 lions left and countries like Tanzania have about 8,000 lions, which is incredible.
“But coming here in Nigeria, we have about 30 to 50 lions left in the wild. A lot of the lion’s reduction has come because of human conflicts and loss of habitats. So, as more lions are taken off, agricultural people take over and very often they are killed. But there is also a problem with illegal bushmeat trading because people are going into the parks where lions are still left and they are putting traps down to catch other animals and when they are trying to catch them, lions are also caught in the process.
Anti-poaching “The lions are not just losing their food; they are also caught in traps set for other animals in the illegal bushmeat. Some other organisations like WildAid have started working with the government to improve anti-poaching around the parks and we are also working with communities around the parks to make them sympathetic to lions.
“One thing is to continue those projects but we appeal to the average person not to consume illegal bushmeat. I hope that the lion population in Nigeria can also recover because if you can’t have a healthy lion population, you can make money from it. The hope here in Nigeria is that if we can have a healthy population and build them, eventually people can go out to see lions in parks in the country.”
On his part, the WildAid Nigeria Representative, Dr Mark Ofua, urged the Federal Government and relevant government agencies to ensure the protection of remaining lions in the country. He said the activities of hunters, pastoralists and farmers are a threat to the existence of lions in Nigeria.
Ofua said: “It is to celebrate the lions we have among us but it has also become a medium and very important to call attention to the plights of lions in Africa and especially here in Nigeria. Lions worldwide are facing extinction and are endangered. And lions in Nigeria are also facing extinction because we have less than 50 lions left in Nigeria and we are fast losing them.
“Lions in Nigeria face the open risk of extinction because of habitat loss, agricultural activities, human activities, forest encroachment, illegal logging, all of these reduces the forest which is their inhabitant. Then, pet trading and illegal and wildlife trading also decimate the lions but very importantly, hunters that go into the bush to set snares for bush meats, these snares also catch the lions, injure them and kill them also contribute to the decimation of lions.”
Big Cat Rescue
The celebration of the animal kingdom’s most beautiful and fearsome creature was founded by Big Cat Rescue, the world’s largest accredited sanctuary dedicated to big cats. August 10 is a day for people to come together from across the world to pay tribute to the mighty lion in as many ways as possible.
The day provides an opportunity for lion lovers all over the planet to push back against the decline in the range and habitat of the king of beasts. These giant animals are among the world’s largest land species and apex predators with a reputation like no other. It would be a tragic loss for both nature and humanity if the species were to disappear entirely from the natural environment.
The threats against lions, however, are all too real. They face the dual spectres of increasingly popular “trophy hunting” and human incursion on their traditional wild lands. A reduction in food combined with hunting tourism is making them more vulnerable with every passing year. Over the last four decades, the lion population declined by 50 per cent.