Biodiversity conservation and the rest of us

By Oliver Ejike Uja

Natural Species are the library from which genetic engineers can work. Genetic engineers don’t make new genes, they rearrange existing ones. – Thomas E. Lovejoy

Recently a Director of Finance in the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Mr. Tony Okecheme was reportedly sweep away by flood at the Galadimawa area of Abuja and as the tragic incident was sinking in, four students of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU), Bauchi, was also lost to flood while returning to their hostels. Floods have continued to batter different parts of the world from U.S.A to China and the Bahamas. All over the world there are reports of extreme and irregular weather patterns which continue to get worse with each passing year. Experts agree that most environmental disasters are man – made and are result of man’s activities. Man is the single greatest threat to his own environment and thus remains the one to also save his environment through proper management. At this point, there is the need for the world to speak in unison on the issue of climate change.
The United States mission to international organisation in Geneva (2010) summarised the importance of Biodiversity Conversation when it stated that “the practice of protecting and preserving the wealth and variety of species, habitats, ecosystem and genetic diversity on the planet, is important for our health, wealth, food, fuel and services we depend on”. This has become very necessary owing to burgeoning population that has put so much pressure on the limited natural resources. The greatest problems militating against conservation can be seen from two perspectives. The industrialised nations and their ever increasing thirst for raw materials to feed the expanding and intruding industries and the developing nations that depend solely on natural resources for sustenance. A lot of multinational organisations involved in extractive or manufacturing industries places profit before all other considerations and many do not care about the environmental impact or adhere to standard practice. The few local people who are engaged by the firms feels that it is a source of job creating and improving in the economy of the area ignorantly overlooking the effect not just on their environment but on their very own health and life.
The indiscriminate logging for export was taken to another level when a charcoal production plant was alleged to have operated by some Chinese with the cooperation of some indigenes, few kilometres from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The firm was later closed by the authorities after several complaints by some residents. This firm that was producing charcoal for export had no known tree plantation which ought to be an ancillary industry feeding the charcoal firm with the raw materials. This means that the firm would go about buying and falling trees indiscriminately without recourse to standard practice. Besides, the danger on the health of the people and environment is unimaginable.
Forest is very central in stabilising the climate and reversing the adverse effect of climate change. This is why its preservation and protection is very important since most other animal species depends on it for survival. This fact is not lost on scientists and the world leaders as the G7 countries in a summit Biarritz, France from 24 to 26 August, 2019 pledged $20 million aid package and promised a long term plan to protect the Amazon forest being ravaged by fire.
Moreover, as the debate and controversy surrounding Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) continues, it is important to realise the urgent need for conservation for Thomas Lovejoy noted that nature is a whole library from where geneticists pick genes to work with and that no scientist can claim to manufacture new genes.
Species will become critically endangered or extinct for a couple of reasons and if no effort is made toward protection, conservation and management of nature and the environment. Unfortunately, ours is a society that does not care about the environment much again and the effect is everywhere for all to see. Those who are familiar with the Lagos – Ibadan expressway would notice how the once thick lush rainforest that once adorned both sides of the road had quickly given way to different praying and convention grounds by different religious bodies and faith based institutions. Thousands of acres of the forest have been lost to this and I doubt if any of the states involved has any viable zoological or botanical garden, talk more of conservation or wide life protection programme. Unfortunately some of these vast forests acquired and destroyed by these institutions lay fallow all year round except for few days that conventions take place. This is besides the hallowing experience travellers pass through each time there are programmes in these venues as the only major road that connect the city of Lagos to Ibadan and the rest of the country becomes impassable due to total traffic gridlock.
The indiscriminate sprouting of housing estates poorly planned and haphazardly built is another factor that is militating against sound environmental practices and conservation efforts. In Abuja water ways and green zones have been encroached on or taken over by developers leading to severe flooding in some of the areas. As in Abuja, so it is in Lagos Jos Kano, Enugu, Owerri and Rivers. I visited home recently and before leaving the kids were in high hopes that they will be able to explore the woods and see some of the animals they normally see on television in the wild. As kids it never occurred to them that these films they see on National Geographic Channels were not shot in Nigeria and their own imagination of the village was where you go and can walk into the forests and see those animals in the wild. Ironically, it was while going home that they came close to seeing some of the animals. However, the animals were all dead and on display by hunters who usually come to the highways or at specific locations to display their games. Antelope, Grass cutters, Snake, fox and Guinea fowls were the major catch and attractions for the day. At the ‘village’ even the last patch of forest that was last standing had equally given way to developers too. Therefore, the hopes of even seeing the animals in the wild become far- fetched. In the whole of South East and Nigeria at large, can anyone or institution say the number of antelopes in the wild? They have all become extinct or on their way to extinction like the big five animals; their habitat having vanished and having been hunted down as ‘bush meat’.
The explosion in population means that there will be pressure on the limited natural resources and this is why conservation should be taken very seriously. It will not tell well of this generation that a lot of those things God had freely given us were mismanaged, destroyed and allowed to disappear under human pressure. Conservation does not mean depriving or taking indigenous people away from the land which is a source of their sustenance but crafting out policies that can accommodate the people while opening new channels and method for them. This way, nature reserves, botanical and zoological garden must be created or revived such that it will meet international standard best practices in documentation and protection of critically endangered species. At the same time, efforts should be stepped up in educating the people on the need to respect nature while strengthening the relevant environmental laws. God has given humanity the world to conquer, not to destroy.

Uja is a researcher and wrote from Abuja.
Twitter: @ujaoliver

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