Insecurity has affected three national parks – but that is not the greatest threat to wildlife conservation in Nigeria

Andrew Dunn is the Director of Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Nigeria, based in Cross River State. Through his organisation, he has worked in Nigeria since 1992 to help conserve the environment, including the country’s endangered species. In this exclusive interview with The ICIR’s Marcus Fatunmole, he shares his thoughts on the state of wildlife and conservation in Nigeria while pointing out neglect by the state and federal government. 

The ICIR: What changes have taken place since you started wildlife conservation activities in Nigeria? 

Dunn: I have worked in conservation in Nigeria since 1992, and obviously, there have been a lot of changes since then. The National Park Service has grown considerably, and more NGOs are working in the environmental sector now. Some species have declined across Nigeria, such as elephants and lions, and some species, such as wild dogs, are no longer present in the country (extirpated). 

But there has also been a marked increase in interest in wildlife conservation in Nigeria, particularly among young people, and a growing sense of pride in the species that still survive in the country.

Andrew Dunn, Director Wildlife Conservation Society Nigeria
Andrew Dunn, Director Wildlife Conservation Society Nigeria

What major animal species are endangered in Nigeria, and what is their current population?

Nigeria has many endangered species, including the Cross River gorilla, Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, Preuss’s red colobus, Niger Delta red colobus, lion, leopard, vultures, and elephants. Outside of protected areas, most, if not all, species are endangered.

Nigeria has many endangered species, including the Cross River gorilla, Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, Preuss’s red colobus, Niger Delta red colobus, lion, leopard, vultures, and elephants

Wildlife conservation also has to do with logging. What can you say about this?

Yes, logging has a negative impact on our forests which are the richest areas for biodiversity in the country. Logging has always been a cause for concern, but in recent years has escalated out of control. In Cross River State, for example, a weakly enforced logging ban and a lack of support for the Cross River Forestry Commission resulted in a significant increase in logging, with much of the logging controlled by politicians.

Would you say the Nigerian government is doing enough to address the illegal wildlife trade (IWT)?

No, very little has been done to address illegal wildlife trade in the country beyond multiple workshops and the setting up of various task forces. Serious issues remain a cause for concern. For example, Nigeria is one of the few countries where ivory is still openly traded. However, with support from some NGOs, there have been some recent improvements made, especially by the Nigeria Customs Service.

Nigeria is one of the few countries where ivory is still openly traded.

What roles do porous and unprotected borders play in IWT?

The fact that Nigeria is one of the largest global hubs for the illegal wildlife trade is likely due to the presence of porous and unprotected borders, as well as corruption.

Is there any complicity between security agents, especially border patrol agencies, and people behind IWT?

Although there is no evidence to support such a link, it is well-known that IWT is worth millions of dollars each year.  

How much can Nigeria lose annually to IWT? 

The illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is a major transnational organised crime that fuels corruption, threatens biodiversity, and can have significant public health impacts.

In particular, the spread of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19 in recent years underlines the importance of ensuring that wildlife is traded in a legal, safe and sustainable manner and that countries remove the profitability of illegal markets.

The global revenue from IWT has been estimated at between USD 7 and 23 billion per year.

What are the benefits of wildlife conservation? 

There are six main benefits of wildlife conservation:

  • Protection against climate change. Forests play a vital role in tackling climate change by storing carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. Wildlife helps forests store carbon more efficiently. Many tree species in tropical rainforests rely on animals like elephants and hornbills to eat their large, fleshy fruits – and so help disperse their seeds. 
  • Nutrient-rich food source. Wild animals serve as critical food source in many rural areas.
  • Nature’s medicine cabinet. Chemicals from nature have been a part of human civilisation ever since our early ancestors began using them to improve and enrich their lives.
  • Cultural significance. Non-material benefits, ranging from spiritual enrichment to leisure pursuits, while difficult to measure and value, are amongst the least recognised yet most important contributions of wildlife to human well-being. Wildlife offers numerous therapeutic benefits. Research has shown that people are most drawn to landscapes that are tranquil, aesthetically appealing, have a historic significance and contain wildlife. Natural habitats and landscapes which support thriving wildlife populations also serve as valuable spaces for people to interact with wildlife, ranging from photographing wildlife to watching wildlife films. Wildlife also provides us important spiritual benefits, with sacred places and species playing an important role in many people’s lives.
  • Improving soil health and fertility. Wild animals play a key role in enhancing the health and fertility of the soil by improving its nutrients. Wildlife, which ranges widely, can also move nutrients around – for example, the hippo’s night-time grazing in grasslands brings nutrients back to the river through their dung, increasing fish productivity.
  • Maintaining ecological connectivity and keeping ecological corridors open.

What’s your view on arresting and prosecuting people who engage in IWT in Nigeria?

In the unlikely event that you were ever caught and arrested for IWT in Nigeria, you were very unlikely to be prosecuted and jailed. However, there are signs that this is slowly changing.

In May 2023, two men were sentenced to four years imprisonment for conspiracy and unlawful possession of 839.4kg of Pangolin Scales and 145kg of Elephant Tusks.

What challenges does your organisation face in helping Nigeria conserve its wildlife?

Although there is a lot of attention on illegal logging, habitat loss caused by agricultural expansion by smallholder farmers is a much more serious threat to the remaining forests in Cross River State. 

WCS is working with cocoa farmers to reduce deforestation rates and protect important wildlife corridors. Hunting to supply the bushmeat trade is obviously a major conservation issue, and today there is little wildlife left outside of protected areas. 

A major threat to protected areas across northern Nigeria is illegal livestock grazing. As grazing reserves and stock routes are lost and converted to agriculture, pastoralists often have little option but to graze their livestock inside national parks. 

The greatest threat to elephants in the county is human-elephant conflict caused when elephants leave protected areas and raid local farms.

    The greatest threat to elephants in the county is human-elephant conflict caused when elephants leave protected areas and raid local farms.

    A major conservation issue in Nigeria today is insecurity. No fewer than three valuable national parks (Kainji Lake National Park, Kamuku National Park, and Chad Basin National Park) have been taken over by bandits and insurgents.

    Rangers are unable to patrol under such conditions, and the parks have become no-go areas with serious repercussions for conservation as well as regional security. 

    More support for the National Park Service, particularly the provision of better firearms and ranger training, is urgently required, together with stronger collaboration with the army.

    However, perhaps the greatest threat is the lack of commitment from both federal and state governments in protecting wildlife. It is saddening to note that important wildlife refuges such as Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State and Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary in Cross River State have been neglected by state governments and have been allowed to deteriorate.

    Marcus bears the light, and he beams it everywhere. He's a good governance and decent society advocate. He's The ICIR Reporter of the Year 2022 and has been the organisation's News Editor since September 2022. Contact him via email @ [email protected].

    Join the ICIR WhatsApp channel for in-depth reports on the economy, politics and governance, and investigative reports.

    Support the ICIR

    We invite you to support us to continue the work we do.

    Your support will strengthen journalism in Nigeria and help sustain our democracy.

    If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here

    Support the ICIR

    We need your support to produce excellent journalism at all times.

    - Advertisement