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Edumanom Forest Reserve: Home of chimpanzees threatened by local hunters

The Edumanom Forest Reserve, located between Nembe and Ogbia Local Government Areas of Bayelsa State, still has an abundant number of chimpanzees and other wildlife…

The Edumanom Forest Reserve, located between Nembe and Ogbia Local Government Areas of Bayelsa State, still has an abundant number of chimpanzees and other wildlife in the South-South region of Nigeria, but it’s currently being threatened by local hunters in the area who kill these endangered species for consumption.

Despite the fact that the forest reserve is placed under government protection, hunters have continued hunting in the forest, thereby putting these endangered species at risk of being wiped out.

Recently, environmentalists and tourists in the state raised worries, when pictures of young hunters boasting of killing and selling chimpanzees to interested locals surfaced on social media, thereby calling on the federal and state governments to take drastic action in protecting these endangered species so that they are not hunted into extinction.

Last year, an environmental rights advocate and citizen of Bayelsa State, Mr Aziboala Robert, launched a campaign to preserve the Niger Delta rainforest from unhealthy practices that may cause the wildlife and thick forests in the state to go into extinction.

Robert, who embarked on a 14-day expedition into the deep forest at Otakeme Community in Ogbia, also organized a bonfire night to sensitize the locals about activities that are gradually killing the Niger Delta rainforest and the endangered species in it.

The expedition adventure, which was a journey of 25 kilometres from human civilization, had the team also cover over 400 kilometres to explore the forest, and the tourism potentials inherent in the forest.

One of the Chimpanzees killed by hunters at Edumenom forest reserve in Bayelsa

Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that in 2016, Bayelsa State Government signed a law to protect forest reserve and guide against killing of endangered species in the forests across the state.

Already, a conservationist, Ebiegberi Raynus, has condemned the hunting of chimpanzees and selling same in Nembe area of Bayelsa State, urging the government to take drastic action to discourage such activities by hunters.

According to him, these species of ape are critically endangered and red listed, a condition which requires that the appropriate authorities protect the Edumanom Forest Reserve in line with international best practices.

The Project Officer, Environmental Right Actions (ERA) Niger Delta Resource Centre in Bayelsa, Mr Alagoa Morris, described the hunting of chimpanzees in the Edumanom Forest Reserve as unfortunate, adding that it appears that there is lack of seriousness on the part of the authorities.

He said: “Forest Guards should be properly engaged and given adequate training both at home and abroad on how to protect government reserved forests. About two years ago, the Bayelsa State government directed the relevant ministries to come up with a robust Forest Resource Conservation or Protection Bill to be forwarded to the State House of Assembly.

“I am aware that there are laws prohibiting the killing of such endangered species of animals in our environment. Most unfortunately, there seems to be lack of seriousness and follow through actions on the part of the authorities; state and federal.  Besides, it is unimaginable that such is happening in a government recognised and reserved forest which is gazetted too.

“The Civil Society has not given much attention to this area. Sadly, governments in our clime don’t support the civil society. Must we continue depending on foreigners even for our own welfare? There is need for government to meet with traditional rulers in the state to work towards effectively protecting and preserving these animals for posterity.

“This has taken too long.  I am sure that the law would take care of all such things in Bayelsa State.  And, the law should make provision for stringent penalties for those who would be found contravening any aspects of the law. These animals have the right to live in their natural habitat, whether in a Government Reserved area or not. Our environment is not complete without them. Poachers should be punished,” he said.

The Bayelsa State government, while reacting to the action of local hunters at Edumanom Forest Reserve, said such act is regrettable because the future of chimpanzees in the forest still remains at stake.

Senior Special Assistant to Governor Douye Diri on Tourism, Mr. Priye Kiyaramo, also disclosed that there are cases where infant chimpanzees in the forest are constantly taken alive and sold in cities as pets.

He said: “I call on catchment communities of the newly approved Edonamon National Park, covering parts of Ogbia and Nembe local government areas to assist the state government to protect the chimpanzees and other wildlife. The locals too should use the forest resources in park buffer zones sustainably.

“We can develop chimpanzee-focused ecotourism programme there and work to stop illegal poaching in logging concessions as part of efforts to look for ways to reduce the impact of the bushmeat trade on apes and other endangered species found in the forest reserve.

“There is urgent need for the State House of Assembly to come up with anti-poaching measures through bills. I want to also call on the relevant ministries and departments and agencies to do the needful by carrying out duties in the area of effective law enforcement with a view to protecting the threatened chimpanzee population in our National Parks and other forest reserves in the state.

“Poaching is another prominent threat. Bush meat has always been a primary food, but in recent years, poaching has become commercialized to satisfy the appetites of wealthy urban residents. Chimps are highly social animals, who care for their offspring for years and can live to be over 50. In fact, chimpanzees are our closest cousins; we share about 98 per cent of our genes,” he said.

Explore Chimpanzee Trekking Tour in Edumenom Forest- govt urges tourists

The Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to Bayelsa State Governor on Tourism, Mr Piriye Kiyaramo, has called on tour operators to explore the potential of Chimpanzee Trekking Tour Packages that abound in the Edumenom National Park, adding that the chimpanzees found in the park offer wildlife tour operators opportunity to develop Chimpanzee tourism packages for adventure-seeking tourists.

Mr Kiyaramo, who made the call while exchanging views with newsmen in Yenagoa, maintained that the Edumenom National Park and Apoi Creek National Park located in Nembe/Ogbia and Southern Ijaw Local Government Areas respectively, could provide employment opportunities for youths from the communities as rangers, animal trackers and tour guides.

According to the governor’s aide, such special niche tourism packages within the parks would go a long way to create awareness to protect wildlife in the newly approved Edumenom National Park, covering about 86.76 km2 which extends to parts of Nembe/Ogbia Local Government Areas, saying that gorilla/chimpanzee tourism packages also would provide alternative income for the communities adjacent to the park.

He recalled that in 2008, chimpanzee and gorilla tourism in Uganda accounted for 52 per cent of tourism revenue in that country, adding that chimpanzee tourism at the Edumenom National Park can also serve as an important source of funding for conservation budgets. He said that gorilla/chimpanzee tourism can become the principal internal source of foreign exchange, if properly planned and managed.

Mr Kiyaramo further explained that in addition to procurement of fruits and vegetables for the hospitality sector, direct income from joint ventures, including cultural tourism excursions, shopping, crafts and donations among other benefits will accrue to people of the communities adjacent to the park.

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