600 Baboons, Chimpanzees under threat at Drill Ranch in Cross River
Recently, youths from Buanchor, numbering over 20, on motorbikes were alleged to have invaded the camp at the ranch, took two Americans (a co-founder of the ranch, Liza Gadsby, from Oregon State, and Zack Schwenneker, from Michigan State) hostage, while a Dutch, Sebastian Pirns, who visited the camp to effect some repairs was beaten up and later let go on grounds that he was a visitor.
The co-founder of the ranch, Peter Jenkins, however, told The Guardian that Liza and Zack were freed days after, and “I really thank my staff from the community for their great efforts and solidarity.”
An eye witness report said the invasion and hostage-taking were because Buanchor youths were not happy when they heard that one of their sons died in a police van accident involving five policemen, and five workers of the ranch, suspected to have stolen staff salary and other things at the facility.
The policemen were said to have arrested and conveyed the suspects to the Area Police Command in Okuni, Ikom Local Council, from Buanchor for further investigation when the accident occurred, and one staff of the ranch, who hailed from Buanchor died, while others including some policemen sustained injuries.
The policeman, who drove the van was later reported to have died in the hospital after all efforts to keep him alive failed. It was alleged that he drove under the influence of alcohol, and the “first time the vehicle entered the bush was at Orimekpang, while the deceased was binging on a bottle of “combine” (local spirit spiced with roots and herbs). When they got to Ikom, he could no longer control himself and the vehicle went off the road and somersaulted.”
Before this incident, Jenkins said: “We were robbed at about 3 a.m. on December 29 of over N2m, which was our December salary. Computer sets and personal items were stolen. Our security guard said it was a robbery incident, but police said it was an insider job, as there were no signs, or traces of robbery. So, the police detained five staff members and later carried them to the Area Command the same day. Having crossed the Cross River bridge on their way to the Area Command in Okuni, with five of my staff and five policemen, the vehicle veered off the road and everybody was injured, some seriously, while one person was killed, and that was my staff. Now, the police crashed their truck and that is a Federal Government’s truck, in which 10 people were injured and one killed. So, who gets the blame?”
Penultimate week, Jenkins confirmed that the driver of the police van had died yet “the Police is now tasking me to foot the bill.
“When I heard of the incident, I called the police to get security details down to the ranch immediately because boys in the village would attack the facility, but they failed to do so swiftly as you would expect from security agencies. So, my project was severely attacked, and most of my things destroyed at the camp by the youths. The youths also attacked my camp, abducted my wife, my American manager, and severely beat a foreign visitor from Holland, who was assisting us on his way through Nigeria. They stripped my manager naked and beat him with clubs and sticks. So, I have been pleading for sufficient security in the area, but that has not happened. The Police only sent four policemen to a middle of nowhere to go and do what against 500 youths? If you go with sufficient force, you are sure nobody gets hurt, but if you go with insufficient force, you are guaranteed that someone is going to get killed, or hurt because what you do is to encourage the boys to attack.”
Jenkins alleged: “Today, communities are not ruled by chiefs and elders, but by cultists, who don’t have any respect for government, or any authority because they are the ‘authority,’ and this is what I have been cautioning the government about for over a decade. I have had cause to tell the government that if it allows the youths to operate like this, it is creating a disaster scenario for the whole state because very soon the state would be run by warlords.
“For quite some time, I could not contact my wife and was afraid of all the animals had been killed as I got a text that people were going to kill the animals. This is Cross River State, a place I have worked for 31 years. I built something that was recognised internationally, and that is what we are trying to destroy now. I can’t bring people in because I can’t guarantee their security. If the project is killed and foreigners beat up, it is very depressing and this is the thank you that I get in Nigeria. From the accident, nobody blames the police, but me, or the white man. I had information from the village that I should get more security presence at the ranch because there were talks about killing the animals, and I contacted security people, but instead, they said, ‘don’t worry.’ The first time they kidnapped my wife, she was released through the paramount ruler, but he has no powers in Boki and paramount rulers have no powers anymore in the state,” he lamented.”
He said the situation was dangerous as about 560 to 600 drills and chimpanzees in the ranch, which is “the world’s most successful captive breeding programme for endangered primate may be destroyed if urgent security measures are not taken….”
If the Ranch is gone, Jenkins declared, “I think it will be a disaster for the economy and the village, especially for the women, who depend on the drill ranch as they sell to us, their produce on daily basis. We spend between N30, 000 to N50, 000 every single day purchasing their produce, and this goes into the pockets of the local women, who use that money to feed their children, their school fees and medical bills. Apart from the local women, we also have many others that sell their products to us every week. In a year, we spend averagely N40m buying food and other things.”
Pirns, who described the encounter as horrible, alleged that men numbering about 20, stormed the camp at the ranch, beat him up with machetes, and threw him to the ground.
He said, “When I got myself off the ground, the local staff said I needed to leave. There was lots of noise and so many things happening too fast. Suddenly the place was quiet and the guys took off on their motorbikes. Apparently they took Liza and Zack on the motorbikes and left and I was just left there with the vandalised car. By the time I looked around at what had happened, I realised that they had trashed everything.
“The car and other things were smashed, and they poured gasoline over the car and I was thinking the whole place was going to go up in flames…So, I waited for about half an hour before I asked one of the locals to take me to Kataba, off Buanchor to the highway. From there I found my way.”
But the state Commissioner of Police Mr. Nkereuwem Akpan, speaking to The Guardian via telephone, dismissed Jenkins claims saying: “We have not seen anybody that is dead. It’s just an allegation. I have told them to put their grievances in writing, but I don’t know why they like carrying rumours around anyhow.”
On allegations that youths from the community went to the Ranch to disturb and caused trouble, he said, “take it as false.”
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