There are elephants in Nigeria, even though most people living in the country may not have seen them. People, both young and old, dream of seeing an elephant in their lifetimes but the dream may never come true, why? Elephants in Nigeria are now vulnerable to extinction due to ivory poaching and habitat loss. Recently due to constant encroachment on elephant natural homes, more unpleasant encounters between the animals and humans have been recorded.
In one of the last few elephant habitats in Nigeria, Omo Forest Reserve, in Ogun State, where forest elephants persist just near Lagos State there is an urgent need for intervention on behalf of the animals. Due to sudden increase in farming activities in the heart of Omo reserve and quarry activities just at its outskirt, some of the animals have been forced to move out of the reserve. These have roamed to the border of Ogun and Lagos State where the Imobi – Itasin – Epe lagoon communities are located. There, the elephants have been raiding crops, causing economic loses to the farmers.
An elephant behavior expert from Africa Nature Investors Foundation (ANI) field team explained that after migrating out of Omo Forest Reserve, efforts to get the elephants back have been severely hindered by rising water levels in the tributaries of the Osun and Omo Rivers.
“The further recent increased water levels of the Osun River is due to the opening of the Asejire Dam which has made the situation even worse by hindering the elephants from crossing back into the Forest Reserve,” he said. Even though adult elephants are good swimmers, they won’t go into very deep bodies of water with their young ones. ANI works closely with the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF).
Speaking on behalf of the affected communities, Chairman, Active Hunters’ and Farmers’ Club in Epe, Lagos, Alhaji Ajagunoba Aribada, described the situation as seriously damaging to the villagers’ livelihoods.“We have been facing this situation for the past seven months. The elephants have destroyed all our banana, plantain and cassava farms,” Aribada said.
He noted that more than 14 acres of cultivated farmland had been affected. “We can’t even reach the other parts of the farm because the nursing female elephants are aggressive. This has caused food scarcity for the community,” he lamented.Naturally, the primitive response of people would have been to attack the elephants in retaliation. Elephant tusks (ivory), its meat and body parts are the main reasons for poaching the animal. It is estimated that 100 African elephants are killed each day by poachers.
The voracious demand for ivory products in the Asian market makes the illegal ivory trade extremely lucrative, leading to the mindless killing of thousands of African elephants.The understanding of the animals’ plight has restrained the hunters from reacting harshly. Forest rangers, experts from NCF, Safari Hunters’ Association of Nigeria and various community heads have educated the affected farmers and residents to prevent further chaos for now.
However, the restraint may not last for long. There is only little people can do when they are pushed to the wall. “The government must help by compensating us for the damaged crops. We have contacted the government to help us. We posted our plight on the Facebook, we even contacted the Ogun State governor to help us, but there is no response yet,” Aribada added.Two of the elephants have returned to Omo Forest Reserve, but the community wants the whole herd of elephants to go away. “I am old now, there is little I can do to restrain people from attacking the elephants anymore. Tell the government to compensate the affected farmers so that the peaceful coexistence between these animals and the community will continue,” Aribada concluded.
The village head of Oki Gbode Imobi, Baale Adeleke Olaitan, wants the elephants led back to the reserve. He lamented that the animals have disrupted livelihood activities of the community. “Nobody can go to the farm for fear of being attacked. Meanwhile, the elephants have eaten all the cassava crops and plantain on the farms. We want them out,” he said.
The fishing business in the community is also affected. “The elephants enter the river to drink and bath and ruin all the fish traps,” said Ismaila Lekan, a community resident popularly known as Indomie. “My mother who is into fish business can no longer go about her business because of the fear of the elephants,” he added.
There are still about four herds, numbering about 40 forest elephants, still roaming outside the Omo Forest Reserve. Like Baale Olaitan, Aribada and others in the community, Lekan wants the elephants moved away from the community and he wants compensation for the damaged farms.ANI’s spokesman, Tunde Morakinyo, revealed that his organisation and NCF are working with the Ogun State government to create a wildlife sanctuary within the Omo Forest Reserve, where the elephants can live safely far away from village farms. This Wildlife Sanctuary could become a lucrative tourism asset for the state and would also prevent unpleasant encounters between the elephants and the surrounding community in future.
“We plead with the Ogun State government to move quickly to establish this wildlife sanctuary so that these elephants can all return to a safe haven in Ogun State and no longer cause economic damage to the farming and fishing communities in other places,” he said.
•Bamgbose is a multimedia journalist.