The Minister of State for Environment, Barr. Sharon Ikeazor, has said the President, Major General Muhammed Buhari (retd.), has approved the establishment of 10 new national parks.
She said this on Thursday while giving her keynote speech at the official launch of the largest wildlife conservation campaign in Africa by WildAid.
The campaign tagged ‘Keep them wild, keep us safe’ is aimed at reducing the demand for illegal bushmeat, support enforcement activities to tackle illegal wildlife trade and raise awareness of wildlife conservation.
WildAid is a non-profit wildlife conservation organisation that is dedicated to protecting wildlife from illegal trade and other imminent threats.
The event had in attendance the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, WildAid President, Peter Knights OBE, the director General of National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, Prof. Aliyu Jauro and representatives from the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, Nigerian Customs Services and other related agencies.
Also in attendance were WildAid ambassadors, Stephanie Linus, Davido, Emmanuella and Miss Tourism Nigeria, Mercy Odjugo.
Speaking at the event held at Lagos Oriental Hotel, the Minister said due to the threat faced by the 309 threatened wildlife species like the pangolins, lions, elephants, manatees and others, the President has approved the creation of 10 national parks from the existing forest reserves in Nigeria.
Speaking further, Ikeazor called for urgent proactive actions to reverse the trend of over exploitation of these natural resources, stating that “poaching, possessing, taking, trading and consumption of these animals have put Nigeria on the spotlight of wildlife crime.”
Ikeazor commended the collaborative effort of WildAid in tackling illegal wildlife trade in Nigeria, stating that efforts such as theirs would help curb the menace.
The Minister in her speech lamented the rate at which bushmeat is consumed in Nigeria, stressing that it poses environmental risks and is a threat to public health.
She also noted with dismay that Nigeria has been tagged a transit hub for illegal wildlife activities.
“We are all culprits of bushmeat consumption as it is a phenomenon in both rural and urban communities, posing environmental risks and extinction of threatened species.
“In-country and transborder trafficking is quite alarming, and Nigeria has been tagged a ‘transit hub’ for this illegality.
“The phenomenon also constitutes high security risk, public health risk with the spread of zoonotic diseases such as Lassa Fever, Ebola Virus, and recently COVID-19,” she said.
She, however, restated the government’s commitment to protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of the Nigerian biodiversity through the necessary agencies and collaborations.
On his part, the founder and president of WildAid, Peter Knights, noted that there are less than 50 lions, 100 gorillas, 500 elephants and 2,300 chimpanzees left in the wild in Nigeria with no surviving cheetahs, rhinoceros, or giraffes.
Despite this, Knights believes that Nigeria can “turn things around for wildlife and become a regional leader in wildlife protection, which can boost the economy through tourism and safeguard the Nigerian public from zoonotic diseases.”
He stated that WildAid aims to engage the youths and middle class in the campaign to save Nigeria’s wildlife.
In his speech, the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, declared that disrupting the balance of nature has dire consequences like biological threats such as the Ebola virus and COVID-19.
He stated that if we continued the path of destroying this balance without a major reversal, “we are inducing an existential threat scenario.”
As part of its campaign in Nigeria, WildAid is poised to help Nigeria enforce its wildlife laws by forming partnerships with the media and government agencies involved in enforcing both local and international wildlife regulations to create a unified approach to tackling bushmeat consumption and illegal wildlife trade.
Currently, WildAid is working with the Lagos State government to update its wildlife protection laws along with Nigeria Customs Service and NESREA to support efforts to tackle the illegal wildlife trade and prevent the use of Nigerian ports and airports as transit hubs for wildlife trafficking.