Conservators say wildlife may soon go into extinction locally and globally if poachers continue to prey on wildlife. FAWAZ ADEBISI writes after visiting Omo Forest Reserve in Ogun State.
It was a sunny day on Saturday, March 26, 2022 when this reporter visited Ogun State. Armed hunters were sighted on the pathway as this reporter meandered through Omo Forest Reserve on a rickety motorcycle owned by a forest guard.
Omo Forest Reserve also known as Area J4 is located in Ijebu Local Government Area and is blessed with natural resources and wildlife, but unchecked activities of poachers have continued to cost Ogun State a huge revenue.
For poachers, invading the forest is the only means of survival, but these crimes have been decribed as the world most committed crime after human trafficking.
Poaching is against Section 30 and particularly Part VI and VII of the National Parks Service Act, which prohibits trafficking and hunting in the reserve. Despite the existing laws prohibiting poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking, poachers still operate freely inside the forest.
Inside Omo Forest Reserve
Omo Forest Reserve, named after a tree called omo (African drumstick), is the largest forest in Ogun State with 1,359.06km land mass. The government acquired it in 1925, and it shares a boundary with Shasha and Oluwa forests in Osun and Ondo states.
This reporter gathered that the reserve has over 125 animals including elephants, pangolins, vultures, sea turtles, monkeys, chimpanzees and parrots and over 200 types of trees.
Apart from unchecked poaching, conservation in the reserve is also threatened by illegal loggers who fall trees in the forest abysmally.
A former Commissioner for Forestry in Ogun State, Ayo Olubori, in 2013 disclosed that about N60 billion was lost to forest depletion, encroachment and exploitation of timber in the past 15 years.
In the same year, the Ogun State government arrested eight poachers for allegedly killing an elephant in the reserve. It stated that the tusk of the elephant alone was valued at N25 Million.
Poachers sell wildlife to herbal doctors
A top guard in the forest reserve, Adetola Kasunmu* told this reporter that animals such as pangolins, elephants, sea turtles and vultures are usually poached in the forest and their hides and body parts including elephant tusks, lion skins, etc. sold to trado-medicine companies.
The forest officer also hinted that wildlife would soon go into extinction in the forest if poachers do noto desist from encroaching the forest resources.
“There are pangolins, elephants, sea turtles, vultures and other wildlife animals in the forest but most of them are nowhere to be found again,” he said. “Of course, it is the poachers that are committing these criminal activities.”
On the efforts of forest guards, Kasunmu added that: “We are trying our best to stop them, but they are always armed and often raid at night. Those animals are used for making traditional medicine. Those poachers usually sell it to those companies.”
‘Poachers use charm on forest guards, security agents’
The forest officer noted that the poachers are always armed whenever they find their way into the forest.
Kasunmu said there are cases where poachers use local charms in the forest and on the guards in such a way that nobody will see or feel their presence in the forest.
He, however, called on the government to empower forest guards with adequate security tools.
Kasunmu said, “These illegal traffickers are armed. The forest guards do not have enough equipment to attack them whenever they enter the forest. Securing forest reserves is beyond what you can imagine.
“Most of the poachers use charm; they usually chant incantations so that nobody will see them. How can an ordinary person enter the forest where you know you will see many animals? You can see that it takes a spiritually fortified person to enter the reserve. The forest guards are only trying their best.”
Elephants at risk of gender imbalance
The team leader of the Forest Elephant Initiative, a project under the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), Emmanuel Olabode, condemned the migration of elephants from the reserve to another settlement.
Recently, residents of the J4 area of Benin-Ore road in Ogun State raised the alarm that about 50 elephants and their calves (baby elephant) have migrated from the J4 forest to Itashin, a border community between Ogun and Lagos.
Olabode while speaking with this reporter said continued poaching and illegal migration could lead to gender imbalance among the elephants and, ultimately, local and global extinction of wildlife animals.
He said, “Continuous trafficking of wildlife can diminish the population of wildlife species which can consequently cause local or global extinction.
“From an ecological perspective, trafficking also has some ecological costs as it threatens ecosystem function such as slowing the reproduction of both endangered and vulnerable species. For example, poaching of adult male elephants can cause severe gender imbalance in African elephants.”
‘There is no active law against poaching’
An environmentalist, Mr Opeyemi Elujulo, argued that one of the reasons poachers continue to encroach the forest is a result of weak laws.
Section 37 and 38 of the National Parks Service Act also stipulates between N5,000 and N1 million fines and/or between two months and ten years prison terms for those found guilty of poaching, aiding and abetting poaching and other crimes as indicated in Part VI and VII of the act.
But Elujulo stressed that arrested poachers usually get freedom without serving the appropriate punishment as prescribed by the law.
He called on the government to reform its policies on the illegal invasion of the forest reserve, saying, “I think they need more sanctions, we need more laws, but there are no active laws, or similar for implementation of the policies.”
…Customs yet to make arrestWhen contacted, the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) in Ogun State stated that it had not arrested illegal wildlife traffickers in the state over the years.
Customs Spokesperson for Ogun 1 Area Command, Ahmed Oloyede, which covers regulation and enforcement of all import, export and anti-smuggling related activities in the state said, “I have not come across any illegal wildlife trafficker.”
Govt efforts towards curbing forest invasion
The Ogun State Government said it is making efforts to ensure forest reserves are free from illegal entry. Project Manager, Ogun State Forestry Plantation Project, Area J4, Babatunde Adebosin, told this reporter that the government is providing adequate security measures in the reserve.
He said the government is also working on a sensitization programme in order to curb wildlife trafficking.
“The state has directed that trading of wildlife should be limited but we find out that a lot of people enter the forest to hunt animals via the assistance of some international illegal wildlife dealers, and the state also goes further to put a bill across but it has not been assented to.
“There have been seminars, some were done last year and two years ago. About nine months ago, there was sensitisation about why killing of animals should be stopped particularly in the Ijebu East Local Government area in Ogun State.
“There are jingles on forestry in the Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation (OGBC) and Ogun State Television (OGTV),” Adebosin noted.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Adetola Kasunmu was used to protect the identity of the forest guard because he was not authorised to speak to the media.