Several reports have suggested that there is a high pressure on Nigerian wildlife, where pangolins, elephants and other endangered species are traded both domestically and internationally.
Animals are hunted for their meat and body parts such as pangolin scales and elephant tusks.
The United States Department of State has continued to rate Nigeria as a “country of particular concern” in illegal wildlife after data recognised that widespread high-level corruption is fuelling illegal wildlife trade in the country.
Nigeria was added to the list in 2020, along with Cambodia and Cameroon. There were no changes to this list in 2021. The list has remained the same since then. This designation does not indicate that all parts of the government are or have been involved in wildlife trafficking, but that there are serious concerns that either high-level or systemic government involvement has occurred.
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Other concerns about wildlife in Nigeria
Wildlife plays a significant role in the protection of ecological stability. While plants play an essential role in balancing carbon dioxide and oxygen in the environment and serving as food for herbivores, animals depend on each other for food and survival.
Carnivorous animals like lions, cheetahs and leopards depend on herbivores like antelope for survival. If antelopes become extinct in the jungle, the effect can be detrimental to the big cats’ survival.
However, man has become a huge threat to wildlife; the constant intrusion of man into wildlife due to greed that leads to illegal trade not only creates a significant threat but has led to the gradual extinction of these lovely creatures.
Deforestation and depletion of wildlife, especially endangered species, have been global concerns, with nations collaborating and sharing intelligence and expertise that will stamp out the indiscriminate killing of endangered species.
Reports say illegal trafficking of wildlife is a multibillion-dollar business involving the plundering of and illicit trade of live animals, plants or parts and products derived from them.
Traffickers illegally capture a diversity of irreplaceable species and sell them as meat, pets, traditional medicine, décor or in any capacity they are needed for.
Endangered animals and plants are often the target of wildlife crime because of their rarity and increased economic value. Two such animals are pangolins due to their scales and elephants due to their ivory.
Customs tackles wildfire crimes
According to UNODC’s World Wildlife Crime Report 2020, Nigeria has evolved into a primary transit hub for trafficking illicit wildlife products, including pangolin scales, ivory and other protected species from Eastern and Central Africa, arriving in the country through its borders.
However, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) said it had stepped up enforcement actions against illicit trafficking of wildlife and forestry products.
Several large-scale seizures of wildlife and forest products took place in 2021. In January 2021, NCS intercepted a container of mixed wildlife products at the Apapa Port in Lagos. The container was loaded with 2,772 pieces of elephant tusks weighing 4,752kg; 162 sacks of pangolin scales weighing 5,329kg; 5kg of rhino horns; 103kg of skulls suspected to be of lions’ and other wild cats; and 76 pieces of processed timber.
In August, 2021, the NCS showcased sacks of different kilogrammes of pangolin scales and elephant tusks evacuated by through the Customs Intelligence Unit and the Headquarters’ Strike Force at a location on the Eastern side of Ijeoma Street, Lekki, Lagos State, worth over N20bn. The seizure is said to be one of the biggest wildlife seizures so far.
In February, 2022, an elephant was found wandering in Saki, Oyo State, Western part of Nigeria, by a group of farmers; the video went viral, showing the jolly elephant as it attracted both young and old, but only to be announced dead days after.
NCS also reported yet another seizure of 14 sacks containing 839.40kg of pangolin scales and four sacks containing 40 pieces of cut ivory weighing 145kg.
In July, 2022, investigators from the Nigeria Customs Service Special Wildlife Office arrested eight suspects in Lagos, where they were believed to be sourcing further illegal wildlife products to Asia.
Further investigation revealed that three of the eight suspects were Vietnamese with speciality in illegal wildlife trade. They were arrested with 7.1 tonnes of pangolin scales and 850kg of ivory.
In July, 2023, the customs arrested three persons allegedly involved in illegal wildlife activities around the Nigeria-Cameroon border.
In a statement, the Wildlife Conservative Society in Calabar, Cross River State, said the NCS made the arrests following a series of intelligence-led operations they supported.
The statement said that one of the suspects was apprehended in Jimeta, Yola, Adamawa State, with four sacks of ivory weighing 89kg.
Customs at the Murtala Muhammed Airport Command said from the period of January to July, 2023, it made a seizure of six packages of suspected dried shark fins with an FOB value of N221,885,769.02 and twenty-five packages of suspected dried donkey genitals with an FOB value of N1,010,372,761.98, bringing it to a total of N1,232,258,531.
The acting Comptroller General of Customs, Adewale Adeniyi, while recently charging his officers and men to redouble their efforts in squaring up to members of the cartel, noted that wildlife plays a significant role in ensuring ecological stability.
He said: “The illegal wildlife trafficking, which vandalises biodiversity, is a multi-billion dollar enterprise involving influential people who feed fat from the proceeds of a destroyed ecosystem.
“The Service has stepped up enforcement actions against illicit trafficking of wildlife and forestry products and called on other security agencies to sustain the war.
“Carnivore animals like lions, cheetahs and leopards depend on herbivores like antelope for survival. If antelopes become extinct in the jungle, the effect can be detrimental to the Cats’ survival and this accounts for the rapidly-depleting number of wild cats in Nigeria’s jungles.”
Adeniyi insisted that concerted efforts must be made to retrieve Nigeria’s natural habitats from poachers, rescue the animals from extinction and ultimately end intrusion into the wild.