By Victor Gbonegun, The Guardian
Nigeria’s conservationists have expressed concerns that the growing appetite for bushmeat among urban residents in Nigeria and surrounding countries threatens the wildlife population and increases the risk of zoonotic disease transmission.
They called for the implementation of demand reduction and education campaigns on wildlife conservation, improving the communication of wildlife laws, strengthening law enforcement, providing and publicising sustainable alternatives to high-risk bushmeat species.
Wildlife in Nigeria faces a number of threats from poaching for body parts and meat, to habitat loss due to deforestation, infrastructure development, and agriculture expansion. Nigeria’s populations of lions currently 50, Elephants 169 to 463, Gorillas 100, and Chimpanzees 1,400 to 2,300 are fast declining, and some species like the Pangolins are either endangered or on the brink of extinction.
The group made these recommendations during the launch of a report by WildAID on bushmeat consumption in Nigerian cities conducted in partnership with the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) in Lagos.
The forum also featured the unveiling of Wildlife consumption reduction ambassador, Stephanie Lynus, a Nigerian actress.
According to the report, bushmeat consumption is widespread across Nigeria as 71per cent of the respondents say they have consumed bush meat at some point in their lives with 45per cent having consumed it within the last year.
Speaking at the launch of the report, West African representative for WildAID, Linus Unah explained that the study is designed to guide future conservation initiatives by establishing baseline data on attitudes, values, motivations, and behaviors of urban buyers, users, and intended users of bushmeat.
He revealed that the consumption also overlaps with the illegal trade networks fuelling the trade in protected species like elephants and pangolins.
The Chief Executive Officer, WildAID, United States of America, Peter Knights who spoke virtually emphasized that people should reduce the demand for wildlife as 75 per cent of new diseases originate from animals particularly wildlife.
The representative of the Director-General, Nigerian Conservation Foundation, Stephen Aina on his part explained that if Nigerians refused to reduce the consumption of wildlife, it could lead to the total eradication of species of animals in a given location and their ecosystem services may be lost if the animals go into extinction. Aina who is the coordinator, Species Programme for NCF lamented that the society’s belief-based system and age-long use of wildlife have widened the hunt for wildlife for human consumption.
Contributing to the Wildlife Vet and Conservationist, Dr. Mark Ofua said it is regrettable that the concept of protected species has become a paradox in Nigeria as such animals are no longer protected by existing laws due to poor enforcement. He said animals such as the Pangolins and Sea Tortoise are still sold in open markets in Nigeria unhindered.