Welcome to Africanews

Please select your experience

Watch Live



Nigeria turns to former poachers to save key forest

A general view of Oban Biosphere Reserve, in Calabar, Cross River, Nigeria where UNESCO Chief Audrey Azoulay visits during a tour of the Reserve on September 12, 2021   -  
Copyright © africanews
KOLA SULAIMON/AFP or licensors


The tropical rainforest of Omo in southwestern Nigeria is facing environmental threats due to excessive logging, uncontrolled farming and poaching.

It is affecting a forest that UNESCO says is a habitat for endangered animal species including African elephants, white-throated monkeys, yellow casqued hornbill and pangolin.

Former poachers are now working as forest rangers, joining the work to protect the resources they once threatened.

As much as they have made progress, especially against poachers, the rangers say they are hindered by a shortage of manpower and the government's lack of enforcement against environmental regulations.

Omo Forest Reserve, which is a preserved part of the rainforest, covers an area of 130,500 hectares (322,000 acres).

To protect wildlife, 55,000 hectares (136,000 acres) - more than 40% of the forest — is designated as a conservation zone, said Emmanuel Olabode, a project manager for the nonprofit Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), which hires the rangers and acts as the government’s conservation partner.

The rangers are focused on nearly 650 hectares (1,600 acres) of strictly protected land where elephants are thought to live and is a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve, where communities work toward sustainable development.

For decades, the NCF has assisted in forest management, but hiring former hunters has proven to be a game changer, particularly in the fight against poaching.

For poacher-turned-ranger Sunday Abiodun, it offered a new life.

He started helping the NCF protect the forest in 2017 as a volunteer but realized he needed to fully commit to the solution.

Abiodun’s team consists of 10 rangers.

They say there’re few of them for the size of the forest. They established Elephants’ Camp, named for rangers' top priority, deep within the protected part of the forest, where they take turns staying each week and organize patrols.

The camp has a small solar power system and a round room where rangers can rest.

Despite the physically taxing work, Adebayo of the NCF said rangers have a better life in comparison with poachers, who could spend 10 days hunting with no guarantee of success.

The rangers have installed motion-detecting cameras on trees in the most protected parts of the forest to capture footage of animals and poachers.

In a 24-second video recorded in May, one elephant picks up food with its trunk near a tree at night.

Poaching has not been eradicated in the forest, but rangers say they have made significant progress.

They say the main challenges are now illegal settlements of cocoa farmers and loggers that are growing in the conservation areas, where it is not permitted.

View more