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‘How Nigeria can maximise economic benefits of wildlife, ecotourism’

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
20 September 2019   |   3:30 am
Nigerian scientists and wildlife professionals have called on the government, the private sector investors and ecotourism entrepreneurs to explore untapped opportunities in the wildlife subsector for national development, recreational and tourism promotion.

A giraffe at the University of Ibadan’s Zoological Garden PHOTO: Femi Ibirogba

Nigerian scientists and wildlife professionals have called on the government, the private sector investors and ecotourism entrepreneurs to explore untapped opportunities in the wildlife subsector for national development, recreational and tourism promotion.

There are advantages of developing the area of agriculture, they said, such as leisure, qualitative lifestyles, improved gross domestic product, employment opportunities and food security.

Necessity, it is believed, is the mother of inventions. The necessity of food, leisure and finding solutions to environmental challenges, as well as seeking alternative sources of state incomes have compelled most developed and developing economies to explore, invest in and utilise all sub-sectors of agriculture for economic gains.

Crop cultivation, livestock production, agro-forestry, aquaculture and wildlife are the cardinal subsectors, and they are of interest to nations which value food security, industrial growth and development, quality lifestyles, and sustainable employment generation through agro-allied industries.

However, the challenges in crop production for food sufficiency in Nigeria are even more pronounced in other subsectors, compelling academics and institutions promoting wildlife sustainability to agitate for government interventions.

Consumptive and non-consumptive wildlife
Wildlife includes animals, birds and vegetation living in an unprotected area. In the unprotected area, life is short and brutish because of poaching and hunting. Many African species have gone into extinction, and industrial pollution, environmental degradation and forest depletion have aggravated the situation in Africa, and Nigeria in particular.

Professor Ibukunoluwa Ayodele, the National President of Wildlife Society of Nigeria (WISON), sub-divides wildlife into consumptive and non-consumptive natural resources that Nigeria should nurture, promote and utilise sustainably.

Consumptive wildlife resources, he argued, include domesticated animals and birds such as poultry, fishes, rabbits, grass-cutters, sheep and goats, and snails.

“They were once in the wild, but professionals domesticate them for human consumption,” he said.

Also, in the consumptive category are plant resources, among which are trees for building constructions, agro-forestry crops such as mango, cashew, orange, banana, bitter kola, kola nuts, coconuts and tree palm varieties. This is crucial for food security, he insisted.

“Wildlife deals with food and security. Without security, the society will not move forward. Without food, the nation cannot move forward. On food, it is imperative to say that grass cutters, honey bees, fish, rabbits and birds were once in the wild before they were domesticated by humans,” Prof. Ayodele said.

Non-consumptive wildlife, he added, includes parks and gardens, zoological gardens, game reserves, national parks, resorts and flora/fauna. They constitute ecotourism resources that have the potentialities to help diversify the economy of Nigeria.

Investments in ecotourism using wildlife
Countries like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, United Arab Emirates, among other emerging economies, have mustered political will and economic resources to develop wildlife and ecotourism for improved gross domestic product while promoting qualitative life.

Despite Nigeria’s huge resources, only a few gardens, parks and resorts are worth the name. Poor funding and investments have resulted in poor patronage, unsustainability and sorry states of national parks and wildlife resources, calling for the private sector-led investments and interest.

Investments in ecotourism parks and gardens, agro-forestry, zoological gardens, and wildlife domestication, experts believe, will contribute to the economy positively through hospitality, tourism, catering and leisure/recreation resources

Professor Gbolagade Lameed, Head of Department, Wildlife and Ecotourism Management, University of Ibadan, told The Guardian that the first thing is conservation of the resources and conservation means wise utilisation of the wildlife resources, saying, “That is, we use them in a sustainable way in which we eat and still preserve the resources. It is ensuring that we do not extinct or destroy our wildlife resources, but that we preserve and use them well.”

General Manager of Lagos State Parks and Gardens (LASPARK), Mrs Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, said ecotourism requires consistent investments in the rejuvenation, creation and maintenance of the resources such as parks and gardens, and that the state is pioneering efforts to keep cities more friendly and resilient to effects of climate change by planting ornamental, economic and agro-forestry crops around the state.

Similarly, the General Manager of Lagos State Coconut Development Authority (LASCODA), Mr Dapo Olakulehin, said his agency had been in the forefront of promoting re-forestation and ecotourism through coconut resorts, beaches and other recreational centres.

Ecotourism using wildlife resources, he added, would help create an economy away from oil, which other smarter countries have explored to their advantages.

Prof. Lameed explained that ancillary business such as hotel, transportation, catering and tour-guiding services would naturally offshoot from well-conserved and sustainably managed wildlife resources, while using the same for food security, employment creation and research activities.

“When we preserve them, the wild animals will increase in number, and we can make them sources of income because tourists will come into the country to see live wild animals. That is what we call ecological tourism. It will be with hospitality and transportation, as well as hotel/catering services and recreational services.”

Economic benefits
Economic benefits of wildlife and ancillary businesses are multifarious. Professionals unanimously claim wildlife resources should be prevented from going on extinction for they ensure food security through agro-forestry, multiplier effects of ecotourism and qualitative lifestyles that could boost mental, physical well-being, reduce morbidity burdens and promote longevity.

Dr Abiodun Alarape of the Department of Wildlife and ecotourism Management, University of Ibadan, said, “The central thing is the contribution of wildlife management to a diversifying Nigerian economy. We have relied too much on oil and there is need to diversify and wildlife is a very important aspect.”

Wildlife can contribute to the diversification of the economy in terms of food production, meat, skins and hides, he added. It could also contribute to tourism and conservation education.

Strategically thinking forward, Alarape said, “Despite the present situation and the challenge, good and sustainable management strategies put in place will, within a short time, bring back the large population of animals that used to roam the forests of Nigeria definitely.

“But there is a need for the government interest. It has been observed over the years that whatever the government is interested in will have a boost within a short time.”

Challenges of wildlife
The environment is bombarded with various attacks. Humans have, ironically, devastated the ecosystems in the pursuit of better life, creating more complex consequences capable of affecting existence of life.

Enumerating human activities constituting challenges to wildlife, Professor Abel Olayinka, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan (UI), said poaching, over-exploitation, bush burning, lack of good forest policy, poor funding and low research activities have hampered the development of wildlife and the supporting businesses.

Other challenges, Prof. Ayodele added, include insecurity and poor attitude to recreation and ecotourism, saying, “People are afraid of going to national parks for fear of being kidnapped.”

Public-private collaboration
Dr Bunmi Babalola, Permanent Secretary, Public Cooperation Commission, Office of the Oyo State governor, while explaining the state government’s readiness to support wildlife conservation and promotion of ecotourism, said the new administration had shown commitment to wildlife protection vis-à-vis forest and forest resources.

He pointed out that the governor revoked over 26,000 hectares of forest that a former governor allegedly acquired illegally, saying, “this is to tell you the commitment of the governor to the protection of wild-life and forest resources because it is vital.”

While explaining the state of Agodi Parks and Garden, Dr Babalola said: “You cannot be healthy in an unhealthy environment. A lot of reorganisation of the zoos has to take place to make it habitable for the animals. If you are putting an animal in a place that is not conducive, it is not right. The most important thing is to create a conducive environment for them.”

Research and development
Prince Sakiru Raji, the National Secretary, Nigerian Association of Zoos and Wildlife, Oyo State branch, said, “Our interest is in the conservation of nature as it were. We find out that a good number of animals are being hunted and unless they are in protected areas, they will go on extinction. But in the wildlife parks, there is a better protection for them, and that exactly is what we are fighting for.”

However, the protected areas are unbecomingly becoming dens of terrorists, bandits, armed kidnappers and robbers.

He suggested that the government should ensure that the wildlife resources are not exploited for export. The Chinese, he alleged, had been depopulating pangolins and other wildlife resources for export.

“This is not supposed to be. We really have to make sure that all these things are put in place. Of course, there is the infrastructure challenge,” he said.

Prof. Ayodele added that if Nigeria wants to boost tourism, it must empower research institutes and wildlife scholarship.

Emphatically, he said, “The government is not doing enough in eco-tourism development and promotion. We want the government to domesticate more animals. If you want us to domesticate lions, we can do it, for tourism and security. We need government intervention for scholarship in wildlife studies. As they promote oil, they should promote wildlife development for economic diversification.”