Niger Delta biodiversity project rescues endangered species
Following indiscriminate exploitation and destruction of natural resources, an intervention scheme funded by Global Environment Facility (GEF) is rekindling hope of preserving endangered species and plants within local communities in the Niger Delta.
The communities are part of a pilot project under the Niger Delta Biodiversity Conservation Project (NDBP), which began three years ago, budgeted to cost about $5.7 million and implemented by the Federal Ministry of Environment in partnership with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through a project management unit in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
About four states – Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and Delta were mapped out for the UNDP- GEF five- year project. The states are characterised by high biological diversity, abundant natural resources, and extreme poverty. The long-term is to garner stakeholders’ support for the establishment of a Niger Delta Biodiversity Trust with local communities, oil and gas companies and government as core beneficiaries.
A visit to the pilot communities in the affected states recently show that the project is becoming a huge success in terms of raising awareness in the preservation of the flora and fauna. The survey of current knowledge on the biological diversity of the Niger Delta reveals striking global significance across the full range of biological diversity at the genetic, species and ecosystems levels.
For instance, in Alega Eleme in River State, the Paramount ruler, His Royal Highness, J.D. Nkpe decried the disappearance of certain sets of animals and plant species, which was hitherto common in their forests. He lamented that the activities of humans have affected species such as tortoise, crocodiles and plants in its preserved 50-hectare land until the project stepped in to conserve the forest.
Nkpe called for more government support by way of new legislation to conserve the endangered species like the tortoise and protect the forest from exploitation as well as sought for investors that would turn its flora and fauna into eco-tourism site.
Mogho in Gokana LGA, River State was selected for the 2016 Community Biodiversity Action Plan (CBAP) implementation. In Mogho community, oil spills pose a severe threat to the sustainability of biodiversity resources particularly fisheries, marine/coastal wildlife and terrestrial resources.
Community members were trained to carry out the demonstration project, including afforestation of devastated lands. They are also expected to pilot other community biodiversity initiatives such as educating other members of the community in their local dialect.
The Secretary to the Council of Chiefs, Chief Mrs Justina Kuro told The Guardian that she received some fruit trees, such as Ogbono. An elated Kuro thanked the UNDP-GEF project for being instrumental in curtailing and/or preventing further biodiversity loss in the area.
For the people of Ikot Uso Akpan Itam, Itu, the project have placed them in the world’s map, especially their cultural relationship with the specie of Monkeys known as Sclater’s Guenon. In the community, hunting of animals is outlawed, according to the council of elders, chaired by the village Head, Chief Asuquo Simon.
“We call the Monkeys the ‘First Daughter’ of Itam- Awa Itam. Monkeys that are seen in surrounding communities are from our community and at the end of the day, they usually return to their home in our forest where they are safe. This is the only community that conserves the plants – the trees, fruits that these Monkeys eat.
“We thank the UNDP that gave us money to plant these trees – we have done it and the fruit trees grow very well and very soon the Monkeys will start eating the fruits.”
Akwa Ibom State Commissioner of Environment, Dr. Inibong Essien, pledged to conserve the monkeys and give political exposure to the community. He said the government will embark on more research as there is a traditional knowledge that should be preserved.
The National Coordinator, Niger Delta Biodiversity Project, Dr. Mathew Dore urged the state to ensure the community creates a byelaw that would offer opportunity for sustainable conservation. He also noted that the state can use the community to develop a native based tourism.
Similarly, the team visited the Village Head, Odoro Enen Akaiedoholdua in Eket Local Government Area, His Highness, Chief Enodien, who is the custodian of the community’s forest.
He said that the 16.5 hectares forest has been surveyed by the community, and it is very rich in biodiversity.
The women leader confirmed the village Head’s assertion, stating that the Monkeys are friendly and do not cause them any harm. “We see the Monkeys as our sisters and brothers. They chase away other animals, particularly Grass cutters from destroying our crops.”
The project’s team leader, Dr. Dore advised the community leaders to take their Monkey conservation initiative a step further by putting their mascot at the airport in Uyo.
Dore disclosed that 20 communities in the region was selected as the prime beneficiaries of the pilot project in the four targeted states.
He said that the aim of the project is to enhance corporation between the Government, the Oil and Gas industry and local communities within the Niger Delta in building and piloting new biodiversity action planning tools for proactive biodiversity management in the Niger Delta region.