Last week, I made good the promise to find the last frontier of elephant den in South-West Nigeria and give an update of the foreign invasion of our forest reserves ecosystem. Certainly and unarguably, Nigeria’s flora and fauna resources are threatened more than ever before. From the south, to west, east to north, true pictures of our natural resources conservation are kept away from Nigerians. It is a bleak situation and help is urgently required and needed.
For the elephant colony, which is the subject matter at hand, the survival of this giant mammal in our forests leaves much to be desired, considering some traditional folklore expectation that confers heroism on hunters who gun elephants down. In March last year, an elephant was gunned down, ripped open and knifed to sad shame of daylight scavengers.
My column in Daily Sun of Thursday, April 5 and April 12, 2018, titled “Elephant Ondo our cave man spirit” and “Elephant Ondo, messages from India” was ample example of how not to treat our flora and fauna population. Sometimes, I frown and laugh at those who think that Nigeria is not a global destination for ecological (green) tourism, a very ignorant story possibly driven into the minds of Nigerians and our leaders by wasters of our giant visitation and presence of flora and fauna resources.
In today’s piece, the very significant and large presence of elephants across the South-West states of Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo and Oyo remains a hidden treasure kept away from the books. I can’t possibly believe that there are young men and women, Nigerians who, with the support of some foreign non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) interested to see that Nigeria’s wildlife survive, devote their entire life to tracking, protecting and educating communities on the need to allow elephants live.
Incidents such as highlighted in those reports last year on “Elephant Ondo” still reverberate but there is positive indication that the sad story on elephants’ status may change sooner than expected.
The story has gone communal and largely targeted at the young minds in public primary and secondary schools, with location in some very unbelievable and challenging natural and physical logjam. Don’t even think there are roads here, or basic health facilities, not to talk of livable platforms. The communities or enclaves around and within the community forests in these states in the South-West are not factored as beneficiaries of any known political and social intervention.
They live among the elephants as friends and foes, sometimes ignored to move freely but get vengeful retribution if their farmlands and plantations are invaded at any point in time. This seeming sociological process needs the intervention of sustainable conservation education on how these mammals can co-habit in a forest system gradually being wiped out by political decisions and activities of wood merchants who senselessly manipulate, mutilate and destroy the forests, leaves sorrow and tears for both man and mammals.
Now that agriculture is back on the front burner, the heat is squared to confront and confound the forest beings, birds and the creeping things. I saw a thriving colony of butterflies at bridge head around an enclave in Ogun State, too sorrowful and sad to come down from a bike, to picture this forgotten backyard of ecological goldmine.
Does the huge presence of butterflies in this community or nature reserve tell any conservation story? Is their presence a barometer to certain realities of natural gift of nature? Another day, another story!!! Let me doff my hat to South-West Elephant Protection Initiative, non-governmental organisation, labouring day and night to restore the habitat and population of the elephant colony in Omo Forest Reserve. Emmanuel Olabode, Stella Egbe and others are on the threshold of global and Nigerian history for bringing the valuable existence of the elephants in southwest Nigeria to the attention of the world.
Though challenges abound, not limited to drastic and unmitigated destruction of forest cover, illegal farming and encroachment of elephant tracks, hunting, fearsome logging, the determination to make difference and provide sustainable protection cover to the elephants and other forest beings presents some kind of overdraft to motivation and resilience to the local elephant initiative.
Can Areas J1-5 in Ogun State (Omo forest reserve) be upgraded to a national park status? The telling features are there indeed but considering the poor funding of national resources architecture, many believe that the dream will be long in coming. But if Okomu National Park in Benin, Edo State, could become a success story within a short period of time, Omo Forest Reserve may also enjoy such desirable sentiment and upgrading.
There is no doubt that this forest enclave in the South-West remains the last vestige of any known primary rain forest ecosystem in the entire western region and so deserves some measure of political backing to continue to support flora and fauna population management, key to enthroning a viable and sustainable ecological tourism presence and research study on nature.
However, the fear that a great portion of the forest reserve enclave might be placed under the gavel for some pecuniary gains through wood exploitation posses possible danger to mammals and flora conservation. There is a huge need to shut down this process by all concerned, as Omo forest may become a shadow of its green habitable sanctuary for forest beings and green tourism.