By Emeka Umejei, Correspondent, Lagos
Bushmeat trade is a thriving business in Nigeria and the authorities appear lame to tackle it. The trade thrives on ignorance and culture. Many Nigerians do not know the implication of Bushmeat trade. To them, it is normal to hunt wild animals for food and economic demands.
Also, increase in population has led to higher demands for survival and Bushmeat holds a lot of hope for a majority of Nigerians who see it as viable means of food and economic survival.
Bushmeat trade thrives in the villages where it is where people who hunt Bushmeat are celebrated. Orientation is abysmal or non –existence and the people do not know they are acting in contravention.
It is a culture that would need a lot of orientation and enforcement to change. But economic implications also make it difficult for enforcement officers to achieve tangible results.
Hunting and selling of Bushmeat have often been seen in the villages as avenues of augmenting income from farming. Hence, it is a perceived as a show of strength rather than illegal act.
Bushmeat are wild animal products derived from the forest and woodland .Some Bushmeat species include red duikers(Antelopes), panthers , chimpanzees , gorillas and African elephants, Africa rock python(snake),Monitor lizard, Olive ridley turtle, crested porcupine ,bush tailed porcupine, African elephant, Bonobos, Chimpanzees, Olive baboon, Guereza ,monkeys,Giant pandolin, Crocodiles, African Civet,Red River hog,Water Chevrotan, Hippopotamus etc.
To farmers in the hinterland, the above list make no sense because the animals have often served as a source of protein or income for them.
Recently, on a visit to Igbodo, located in Ika North east local Government area of Delta state, it was evident that Bushmeat trading is a norm in African societies. Perhaps, this may account for the difficulty in classifying it as a culture or illegality.
During my brief stay in the village, a relative who had gone to farm had brought with him over five pieces of Antelopes which his traps caught. His catch elicited wide spread celebration at home. The celebration stems from the fact that it would lead to revenue generation and provide food for the family.
When i enquired the cost of apiece, i was rightly informed that it goes in excess of N7000.
More intriguing is the fact that if a farmer’s trap catch an animal like crocodile, pig, or leopard, he is celebrated as a great hunter.
Hence, Bushmeat trade is driven by both ego and commerce.
Those who venture to hunt lion or tiger are revered in the society and are deified for their bravery.
But Bushmeat trade is not restricted to villages alone; it strives even in the cities. Bushmeat trade finds accommodation in the city of Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria
Recently, i decided to embark on search for wild animal parts in the city posing as someone looking for it for medicinal purpose.
I found spots in both Oshodi and Idumota markets that there are where wild animal parts like lions,tiger,crocodile are on sale.
People who deal on these parts are called Eleweomo(a Yoruba word depicting a person versed in herbs)
The Eleweomos are often glad to inform clients that it takes alot to get a lion’s part, the reason it is expensive.
A Lion’s cub could go for as much as N20, 000 depending on who is linking you.
Though, their operation is subterranean, their business thrives because Nigerians seeking for cure often come to them.
But trade in wild animals in Lagos is not restricted to sale of parts in the markets there are several restaurants or joints where they are sold as delicacies.
The story of Mrs Motunrayo Olanrewaju aka Aranseoluwa, chief executive officer of Snake Island or Aranse joint where snake and other Bushmeat delicacies are sold as a delicacy best capture the scenario of Bushmeat trade in Nigeria. Olanrewanju’s Snake Island is located in Igando area of Akowonjo local government area of Lagos state and offers snake, antelope, grass cutter pepper soups and snails.
She confesses that she started the business 15 years ago and it has been a thriving venture for her.
“I started this business 15 years ago. You can say it was by stroke of luck. I had a canteen where I sold food but one day, one of my customers went to Badagary and saw people selling smoked snakes and he became interested and brought one for me to prepare for him,” Olanrewaju disclosed.
“As I was doing that, other customers saw it and asked if I was into snake pepper soup and I said no. Then one of them said but madam, you can start this business because it will attract so many more customers as many people can’t imagine they can get this delicacy here in Lagos.”
Stating further, Olanrewaju said that marked her journey into Bushmeat delicacy trade.
“That was how I started. The man then took me to Badagary, to the place from where he bought it. When I got there, I saw all sorts of bush meat – roasted grass cutters, antelopes, snakes, fresh snails and others. I bought as much as my money could buy,” She revealed
“Depending on the size, one single smoked snake goes for between N1000 and N1,500 and a plate goes for N300. A plate, according to her, contains a sizeable chunk of snake meat in a sauce.”
More perplexing is the fact that Nigeria is a signatory to the the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) convention which proclaimed trade in wild animals should not threaten their survival.
CITES is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
CITES was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of IUCN (The World Conservation Union). The text of the Convention was finally agreed at a meeting of representatives of 80 countries in Washington DC., United States of America, on 3 March 1973, and on 1 July 1975 CITES entered in force.
CITES is the most recent, and by far the most robust, international mechanism for regulating trade in wildlife, not just for game species, but for a vast array of species of fauna and flora used by humankind.
Annually, international wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars and to include hundreds of millions of plant and animal specimens. The trade is diverse, ranging from live animals and plants to a vast array of wildlife products derived from them, including food products, exotic leather goods, wooden musical instruments, timber, tourist curios and medicines. Levels of exploitation of some animal and plant species are high and the trade in them, together with other factors, such as habitat loss, is capable of heavily depleting their populations and even bringing some species close to extinction. Though wildlife species may not be endangered but existence of an agreement to ensure the sustainability of the trade is important in order to safeguard these resources.
Though Nigeria is a signatory to CITES, level of enforcement in the country has been both abysmal and lacking in substance.
According to CITES, it is dependent on government to enforce its regulation of trade in wild animals.
Secretary-General of CITES, John scanlon stated this much recently at the International Network For environmental Compliance and Environment(INECE) ninth international conference entitled, Enforcement Cooperation: Strengthening Environmental Governance held in British Columbia, Canada from June 20-24.
Scanlon had noted that CITES created a globally agreed framework for regulating trade in wildlife, but insisted that the success of the Convention rested on national laws, science and enforcement.
Scanlon also stressed in his address entitled, Role of Hunter in CITES Implementation at 58th General Assembly of the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation (CIC) held in St.Petersburg, Russian that commercial trade may be beneficial to conservation of ecosystem when they are not detrimental to the survival of the species.
“The sustainable use of wild species, whether consumptive or non-consumptive, can provide an economically viable option for the conservation of biodiversity,” Scanlon said.
“ And by Resolution CITES Parties have recognised that commercial trade may be beneficial to the conservation of species and ecosystems, and/or to the development of local people, when carried out at levels that are not detrimental to the survival of the species.”
Whether Nigeria can extricate Bushmeat trade from culture and enforce regulation remains a conjecture at best.