Rachel Ikemeh followed by a group of men. Photo: South West Niger Delta Forest Project.

NGO fighting to save threatened species in southern Nigeria

Nigerian conservationists are pushing for more protected areas to safeguard biodiversity. Mainland forest conservation is key in one of the most biodiverse and threatened countries in the world.
Nigerian conservationists are pushing for more protected areas to safeguard biodiversity. Mainland forest conservation is key in one of the most biodiverse and threatened countries in the world.

Nigeria is a huge hub for biodiversity, and is known as a global hotspot for primate species. However, the country is gradually losing its rich biodiverse natural resources. According to Anwadike B.C, a researcher at the National Open University of Nigeria, “biodiversity [in] Nigeria is seriously under the threat of extinction from climate change, economic development, land-use changes from agriculture, invasive species and pollution, crude oil exploration and exploitation, canalization that has threatened mainly the mangroves, deforestation, desert encroachment, overhunting, land use, road and residential buildings construction…” 

This loss, however, is prompting advocacy and community action for the protection of the ecosystem. One such organisation devoted to this cause is the South West/Niger Delta Forest Project. Inspired by IUCN’s 2011 Regional Action Plan to save endangered apes from extinction, the South West Niger Delta Forest Project is a conservation NGO focused on conservation research, community engagement, outreach and partnership, policy advocacy, stakeholder engagement and paramilitary at the grassroots.

Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee
Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee. Photo: South West Niger Delta Forest Project.

According to Rachel Ashegbofe Ikemeh, a conservation biologist and the project director of the organisation, the mission of the project is to provide conservation solutions for threatened wildlife and habitats in mostly southern Nigeria.

“We have targeted two species of primate: the Nigerian-Cameroon chimpanzee population in the southwest of Nigeria and the Niger Delta red colobus monkey which is endemic to Bayelsa state. We targeted these as flagship species but, of course, we are working at a landscape-wide level so we are combining both species-focused and landscape-wide conservation efforts in implementing our programs,” she said.

One of Rachel’s wishes for the Nigerian conservation sector is the creation of more protected areas. “It is very pertinent that we secure [the] protection of the mainland forests ecosystem. Otherwise, in very few years, so many of the species will be gone as the forest will disappear forever. It will be a tragedy, and a very big loss for Nigeria and the globe.” 

Her organisation has already been working towards ensuring the creation of protected areas. They have been instrumental in creating two protected areas which they are also helping to manage —  one located in the Ise Forest Reserve in Ekiti state and the other a community conservation area in Apoi Community Forest for the Niger-Delta Red Colobus Monkey, one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates

The conservation area created within the Ise Forest Reserve in Ekiti is one of the priority areas identified in the Regional Action Plan for the Conservation of the Nigeria-Cameroon Chimpanzee.

The Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes ellioti) is considered the most threatened and least distributed subspecies of chimpanzees. It survives within the rainforest in the border of southern Nigeria to western Cameroon, north of the Sanaga River.

These chimpanzees face huge threats including hunting, habitat loss, and population fragmentation, among others. As noted by the South-West/Niger Delta Forest Project, these threats put the chimpanzee populations at the risk of extinction. 

Red colobus monkey. Photo: South West Niger Delta Forest Project

The red colobus is similarly threatened by hunting, mining, and logging among other agricultural practices. Conserving forest areas is therefore crucial to saving these endangered species. As a recent study by the Society for Conservation Biology notes, “protected areas are now the last strongholds for mammal species.” This supports a global research study, Global Safety Net, which calls for the protection of 50% of the terrestrial and marine realms to reverse biodiversity loss and climate crises.

Ikemeh decried the issue of insecurity in affected areas, lack of public awareness as well as political will from leaders as some of the challenges of her conservation efforts. She, therefore, called for more public awareness and collaboration from all.