Wildcats such as lions, in line with local and international laws, are not allowed to be kept as pets because of the danger they pose to humans in addition to the fact that they are endangered species. However, there is a growing, albeit, disturbing trend of influential people keeping lions as pets, thus making it a booming business for dealers in the trade, Daily Trust reports.
Idris Dauda is an indigene of Gombe State who acts as a middleman for sellers and buyers of lion cubs. Having been in the trade for over two years, he was called upon to sell four cubs to buyers which he did through a short clip meant to advertise the little felines for sale.
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The clip, which was seen by our reporter, captured the two-month-old beasts lying on the floor with two walking around with noise in the background of those who owned them.
When contacted, Dauda said he was contacted to dispose of the felines, stressing that he was not the only one given the contract as few others were tasked with the same duty.
With the four cubs comprising 2 males and females each, he said a combination of a male and female was initially billed for four million but the price was increased to N10 million due to surge of enquiries on their price. He disclosed that the four were sold for N20 million.
“We were asked to advertise the cubs and at the end of the deal, we were given N500, 000 as our share. The entire money does not belong to one person because others would benefit from it too.”
On why the price was high, he explained that they consume a lot of meat and since meat is one of the most expensive commodities in Nigeria, they too pay a lot to nurture the animals into healthy beasts.
“We want them to grow up healthy so the meat given to them is of good quality. If they were given the ones that are bad, the cubs would be sick and they won’t grow up healthy as they should.”
He stated that the cubs were obtained from those who engage in rearing lions in the state; stating that when the lioness gives birth to cubs, they are put up for sale.
“They can give birth to over four kids and unlike cows or sheep that can be shepherded, the owners sell them off to those who will purchase them as pets. Those who buy them are rich people who are wealthy enough to build strong cages for the lions.”
“They have the money to buy and also rear them. There are gadgets that can be used to control the animals which the owners use to protect themselves in case the animals go berserk.”
He said the stick has an electric wave which is used to weaken the system of the animal when it is in its ferocious state, which could be triggered by hunger or when a male lion has the urge for copulation.
But for the feline to be considered dangerous and risky to individuals, they would have been in their fifth month and leaving them untamed at this age is of great risk to the owners and the public.
Growing usage of lions as pets
There are public concerns over the growing penchant by influential personalities in keeping lions as pets despite the grave dangers involved in doing that.
About two years ago, an adult lion being kept in the home of a Lagos resident was discovered sparking fear among neighbours.
The lion said to be owned by an expatriate was reportedly being used to guard the house by its owner.
The Lagos State government promptly responded and moved the lion away from the place to its custody.
For its own safety, the lion was tranquillised and moved to Bogije Omu Zoo in Lekki.
The owner was asked to turn himself in or face possible arrest.
Recently, an influential personality from the North East took to his Instagram page to share pictures of a white lion cub which he gleefully described as “My new pet”.
The picture which went viral on social media generated cacophony of reactions from Nigerians.
One of the respondents said, “Biko (please), this lovely creature should be roaming freely in the wild, not living in captivity for anyone’s amusement. Not cool at all.”
Another one said, “Only in Nigeria; this is an endangered species. I’m sure it was smuggled from SA (South Africa)….”
Another respondent said, “Very cruel and inhumane to keep a wild animal as a household pet!! Hope it mauls you one day!!”
Conservationists worried over trend, urges govt action
Wildlife conservationists have expressed worries over the booming illegal rearing and trading of lion cubs despite the local and international laws which prohibit such.
Conservationists are certain that the number of influential people keeping wild cats as pets especially in the urban areas in Nigeria must have grown greatly with the recent developments.
The issue yet to be resolved is whether Nigeria now has lion breeding farms like South Africa, where there is a captive breeding industry with an estimated 8,000 lions, used in the tourist industry for cub‐petting.
According to the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, various reasons have been adduced by those who keep lions and other wildcats for doing so, and these could be based on their desire to either have a rare and powerful pet at home, or for security purposes or for breeding for sale in the growing illegal domestic wildlife market.
Wildlife experts familiar with the usually cross-border illegal wildlife market have been expressing surprise that lions, classified as non-domestic wildcats, are easy to purchase as pets and that they come relatively cheap with cubs selling between N2 million and N3 million.
However, they (experts) insist that lions are not domestic animals and that even if they were raised in a human residence, they are still wild and would always act on their instincts. That is why they remain dangerous.
Daily Trust reports that the trade in lions is prohibited internationally under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna (CITES), and locally in Nigeria, as they are protected by the Endangered Species Act of 2016 and by the Endangered Species Control, which was signed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
As such, conservationists are of the belief that the federal government could enforce these laws and treaties to punish dealers and those who harbour lions as pets.
The Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) is of the view that government, at all levels, must do more to protect residents from avoidable accidents and possible death in towns and cities given that wild beasts like lions, kept as illegal pets, could break their bounds on account of hunger and go in search of food which would most definitely be humans.
The foundation is worried that lion cubs are sold across Africa by captive breeders in farms, which make it possible for prospective buyers to own these powerful carnivores, in spite of the existence of laws that should regulate these activities.
“Nigeria may just be a ready market, but in the time past and as one of the range states of lions across Africa, the nation had a large population of the protected animal.
“Regrettably, they are now known to survive in only two sites in the country, and these are Kainji Lake National Park where researchers tracked up to 30 lions and Yankari Game Reserve with less than five cats.
“However, records show that no fewer than 50 cats live in the wild in Nigeria. Researchers believe that a combination of factors like conflict between lions and humans as a result of habitat loss, poaching, among others could lead to the disappearance of these animals from Nigeria within the next decade,” the NCF said.
Wildlife experts have argued that without lions, the entire ecosystems can falter, so by remaining in the wild, they play a key role in the food chain. That explains why nobody should be allowed to turn them into house pets in Nigeria.