ABOUT 20 years ago, the country’s zoological gardens and parks ranked among the best in the Africa continent.
Such parks and gardens generated huge revenues into government coffers, but today, those facilities have suffered from such severe neglect that some are devoid of their exotic animals or have lost their land space to land speculators.
Such gardens as the Port Harcourt Zoological Garden, the University of Ibadan Zoological Gardens, Ibadan; the Yankari Games Reserve, Bauchi; the Jos Zoo and Wildlife Park, Jos ; and the Old Oyo National Park, Ibadan, were the delight of tourists that flocked from within and outside the country to see the animals housed in them.
The zoos were then the major tourist attractions in the country. Tens of thousands of visitors from neighbouring states and even foreign countries trooped in their numbers to view the animals in their makeshift habitats.
Nigeria presently has eight national parks, unlike the number in some African countries like Kenya and South Africa that have 52 and 56 games reserves respectively.
A few years ago, the zoos harboured various types of animal including reptiles, chimpanzees, elephants, tigers, lions, rhinos and leopards, as well as various species of monkeys.
A distinction here on wildlife parks and zoos. An example of a wildlife park is the Yankari Games Reserve, while most universities have zoological gardens— mostly for teaching.
Animals in the zoos are fed by their keepers and their ‘homes’ (cages or venclosures) can hardly be described as natural. However, animals in wildlife parks are as called— wild. They fend for themselves and are living in their natural environment.
With inadequate funding, a family of four lions that should feed on a fat ram once a day are being fed on two kilograms of beef in a zoo. The result, as expected, had been gradual starvation and finally, death to such carnivores.
The managements of the parks have not been able to replace some of the aging and dead animals, leading to empty cages in many zoological gardens across the country.
Mrs Margret Fabiyi, the President, Webisco International Federation of Women Entrepreneurs and Tourism of Nigeria (WIFWETN), urges the Federal Government to reverse the depleted wildlife parks in the country, so as to boost revenue.
She says this can be done if all tiers of government pay adequate attention to conservation of wildlife parks in their states. She says this is capable of boosting patronage and raising revenues for states.
Fabiyi also stresses the need to improve wildlife conservation in the country as part of efforts at promoting the country’s tourism potential.
“Adequate funding of wildlife conservation will enhance its development, generate more employment opportunities for the people and help in increasing foreign exchange earnings.
“Nigeria is naturally endowed with good game reserves capable of attracting tourists and boosting the economy— if properly funded and managed‘’.
Fabiyi tasks the government to educate farmers around the game reserves to desist from poaching and bush burning because of the adverse effects on wildlife.
Mr Ganiu Tarzan, the President of Association of Tourists Boat Operators and Water Transportation of Nigeria (NATBOWAT), bemoans the pathetic state of wildlife parks and zoological gardens across the country.
“About 20 years ago, Nigeria’s zoological gardens were the best in Africa. Nigeria’s zoological gardens were then major revenue earners for the tourism industry.
“A lack of maintenance of the animals has adversely affected major zoos across the country,’’ he notes.
Tarzan says that inadequate budgetary allocations, inadequate maintenance and illegal killing of the animals were some of the major setbacks to the development and sustenance of zoos.
“If some states can allocate enough funds to maintain the animals, there are chances that the facilities can be resuscitated, ‘’ he says.
Mrs Nike Okundaye, the Founder of Nike Art Gallery, advised all tiers of government to develop zoological parks in their areas.
She attributes the continued illegal killing of wild animals to a lack of knowledge of the importance of such animals by residents of the various communities, especially farmers.
“Government should from time to time import different species of animals to promote the continued existence of the animals, ‘’ she adds.
Okundaye urges the governments to initiate decisive measures to address the menace of poaching at the national parks.
He asks governments to delineate more areas for wildlife conservation, as part of efforts at boosting eco-tourism in the country.
Mrs Titi Anibaba, the Managing Director of Lagos State Parks and Garden Agency (LASPARK), notes that animals like lions and elephants are fast becoming extinct in the forests of Nigeria.
According to her, inadequate funding is a major factor responsible for the extinction of some animals in parks.
“Adequate funding is key to management of wildlife conservation. There is the need to replace (reintroduce) some of the animals that have gone into extinction at the Yankari Games Reserve and other wildlife parks across the country.
“The funds will also facilitate the transportation of such animals from distant places to the parks. It is important to make concerted efforts to stamp out poaching.
“It is also important that water is provided all year round, such that it does not dry up during the dry seasons, while providing the neccessary meals for the animals,’’ she says.
Anibaba calls for collaboration between the communities where wildlife parks are located and the management of the parks.
According to her, such collaborations will curtail poaching and illegal trade in animal products such as elephant tusks used in the production of ivory products.
The managing director urges government to equip rangers at wildlife parks with adequate patrol vehicles and modern communication equipment to enable them to protect the parks.
Anibaba calls for the training and re-training of the rangers to improve their skills in wildlife management.
She says that harnessing the potential of wildlife parks will boost government revenue.
“It is advisable that all tiers of government make adequate budgetary provisions for the rehabilitation of existing zoos in their domains, while setting up new ones’’.
A viable wildlife park beautifies the environment and preserves nature, thereby attracting lovers of beauty and nature.
Tourism experts, in addressing the menace of wildlife poaching, urge the Federal Government to review the jail terms for convicted poachers from one month to five years, so as to deter others.
They argue that the existing punishment, which gives an offender one month jail term with an option of fine, should be extended to five years jail term, just like what obtains in Kenya and South Africa.
If the games reserves are well-managed, they would be able to earn more foreign exchange for the country, especially now that the desire for diversification of the economy has become more compelling with the decline in revenues from crude oil.