Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Re-inventing Nigerian game reserve

By Mohammed A. Abdullahi
Posted to the Web: Wednesday, November 29, 2006

THE recent unveiling and flagging off of the Yankari Resort and Safari Development Project on Thursday, November 23, 2006 at the famous Yankari Game Reserve by President Olusegun Obasanjo may have proved skeptics wrong over the capability of the Bauchi State Government to transform the Game Reserve to an international tourist attraction.

Analysts believe that the latest development had highlighted many years of anxiety by some environmentalists and conservationists over the rapid depletion of the Game Reserve’s eco-system due to years of neglect, indifference and poor management by the hitherto federal authorities. Recalling with nostalgia his experiences in the early life of the Game Reserve, President Obasanjo vividly recalled how he felt when he was confronted by a flock of variety of wildlife during a visit to the Game Reserve in 1961. The situation, according to the President, has changed due to loss of animal population caused by unprotected poaching activities.

"This is one of the reasons why some people were apprehensive when I decided that a national park like this should be handed over to the state because of the proximity of the state to be able to pay attention to manage it," President Obasanjo said in his remarks at the flagging off ceremony of the Yankari Game Reserve Development Project executed by the Bauchi State Government.
Unveiling the plague to formally give his presidentail blessings to the commencement of development of the Game Reserve, Chief Obasanjo commended Governor Ahmadu Mu’azu for proving skeptics wrong by making the Game Reserve "to be what it is meant to be, a reserve and a resource of diversity of flora and fauna".

Expressing the readiness of his administration to assist Bauchi State in fulfilling the Yankari dream, President Obasanjo admonished the Nigerian elites to imbibe the culture of relaxation by taking advantage of modern leisure facilities being provided at the Yankari Game Reserve by the Bauchi State Government.

"And I believe and hope that two to five years from now, tourism will be a foreign exchange earner probably next to oil, gas and agriculture," President Obasanjo said.

Available records, however, show that the latest transition was not the first of its kind in the 49-year-old history of the eco-park, described by experts as “Africa’s most fascinating animal kingdom”. For example, the Reserve was first created as a game reserve by the defunct Northern Nigeria government before it was transferred to the North-Eastern State after states were created in 1967. With the creation of more states in 1976, the control and management of the Game Reserve was moved to the Bauchi State Government. There are also abundant data to show that the reserve was at different times managed by various agencies even when it was under the legal control of the Bauchi State Government.

For instance, the state government had in 1985 incorporated the reserve into a limited liability company, the Yankari Game Reserve and Tourism Company. Also, the state government in 1990 sought the intervention of the federal authorities to save the reserve from extinction when it was clear that the company could not effectively manage the reserve. This, perhaps, rationalises the decision by the Federal Government to take over the Game Reserve, a development which resulted in its upgrading into a national park until recently.

However, available literature on the development of the Game Reserve show that the park had suffered several losses as evident in the increasing depletion of its flora and fauna due to years of neglect and poor management. Statistics show that before the take-over of the park by the Federal Government in 1991, the Game Reserve, as it was then known, harboured over 50 species of assorted indigenous wildlife, attracting an influx of tourists and visitors from within and abroad. Today, there is enough evidence to show that the Reserve is fast losing some of its finest large mammals, majority of which were now either extinct or deliberately killed by poachers. Experts say that the Reserve has so far lost seven species of its large animals due to poor management.

Mammals such as African hunting dog, cheetah, giraffe and western kob, according to available literature, are now completely extinct from the Reserve. Also, extinct were precious mammals such as korringum, red-fronted gazelle and bucks. The Game Reserve harbours a variety of indigenous wildlife, including anubis baboon, tantalus monkeys, paras monkeys, warthog, hippopotamus, lions, leopards, caracal and spotted hyena.

Mr. Abdullahi is the Director of Press Affairs to the Bauchi State Governor.

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