Unsung Heroes: How Rangers Battle Illegal Wildlife Trade To Safeguard Yankari Game Reserve

Jun 6, 2024 | News

By Anayo Ezugwu, New Telegraph

Ahead of World Ranger Day on July 31, senior game rangers confront the daily dangers and challenges they face in their efforts to conserve and protect the remaining elephants, lions and other wildlife in Nigeria from poachers and other threats within the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State.

The Rangers have received training to confront poaching syndicates and other threats in an area that’s a key source for the illegal wildlife trade.

Coming from communities just outside Yankari, Yusuf Lawal and Jonah Omar felt compelled to do their part to help end the war on Nigeria’s wildlife and natural heritage in the game reserve, which is home to the country’s remaining elephants and lions, along with other wildlife and flora.


Besides the poaching of elephant tusks and the bones, teeth, claws and skins of lions, Lawal and Omar say that poachers also target antelopes and warthogs inside the game reserve.

However, battling the poachers and promoting meaningful conservation with involvement from the surrounding communities proved difficult without proper ranger training. This was where the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) stepped in and provided international standard training for the Yankari game rangers.

Nigeria is recognised as a key source and transit country for the international illegal wildlife trade over the last decade, according to the National Strategy to Combat Wildlife and Forest Crime in Nigeria. It shows that efforts to strengthen the capacity of rangers in the field need to be prioritised to ensure rangers can carry out their duties effectively.

Both Lawal and Omar say that the ranger training they received from WCS, and the leadership at the reserve, made a massive difference in their ranger efforts, individually and as a team. Omar explains that their work as rangers now includes smart patrolling, community awareness, law enforcement and research.


“Before WCS, we were just doing the work without knowing the basics… We learnt so much about marksmanship and weapons handling, how to carry out a patrol and how to engage an enemy,” he said. Omar learned from his father about the work that rangers do and eventually set out to become one, safeguarding endangered species and combating illegal activities when he was employed by Nigerian National Parks in 1999.

Lawal said: “We had no training so we would just chase people and try to catch them, but now we have the skills to safely arrest suspects professionally. The training has changed the way we work … even our appearances. It has instilled pride and discipline. Our camaraderie and morale have improved. We used to be disunited but now we’re a tight team.”

Lawal was inspired to become a ranger after his grandfather told him a story about the near extinction of giraffes and how the species had been completely phased out in some reserves. Realising that such a strong animal was under threat encouraged him to dedicate his life to protecting the remaining animals in the reserve near his home. He said: “Being a ranger is very hard work …

What we do here in the reserve is to protect our animals, especially elephants that move out and disrupt farming in the surrounding area. The WCS put together a special team of rangers with vehicles, smart technology and everything to protect them. There are also other teams specially set up to protect the other animals.”

Special vehicle

The teams that protect the elephants make use of a special vehicle to corral the animals when they move out of the reserve. At Yankari, an elephant guardian reports movement to a management control room that then alerts the team of where the elephants are trying to get out. Lawal said the elephants typically move out at night. They end up raiding local crops, upsetting local communities.

As rangers, they mobilise to protect the elephants and stop them from disrupting communities and destroying farmlands. They also use their field experience to go into communities to explain the negative impacts of poaching and deforestation, why locals should be concerned, and get them to help put a stop to these activities.

Now, the rangers from Yankari travel across Nigeria to share this knowledge with other rangers. WCS Yankari Director, Nachamada Geoffrey, said: “When I started here I felt it was mission impossible – the guys were not trained and they didn’t understand the benefit of collecting data when they go out on patrols.

They had no uniforms. We realised immediately that there is a need for international standard training. Holding the tusk of a dead elephant makes me sad … I realise that if we don’t continue to do what we are doing, and even improve on it, it means in the next few years we might have no elephants left.”

Yankari Game Reserve

Yankari Game Reserve is a large wildlife park located in Bauchi State, in north-eastern Nigeria. It covers an area of about 2,244 square kilometres (866 sq. mi) and is home to several natural warm water springs, as well as a wide variety of flora and fauna.

Its location in the heartland of the West African savannah makes it a unique way for tourists and holidaymakers to watch wildlife in its natural habitat. It is home to the remaining elephants and lions in Nigeria.

It is under the management of the Bauchi State Government. Yankari National Park is an important refuge for over 50 mammal species including African bush elephant, olive baboons, Patas monkeys, Tantalus monkeys, roan antelopes, western hartebeests, West African lions, African buffalos, waterbucks, bushbucks and hippopotamuses.

The games village also has a Wikki Warm Spring, which is the largest of the four warm springs in Yankari. It is a natural spa with a constant temperature of 31.1°C throughout the year during both day and night, crystal clear and 13 meters wide, two meters deep perfect for a swim. Dimmil, Gwana, and Mawulgo are the other springs. (Supported by Daily Maverick and Wild Africa Fund).

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