Rescued turtles find refuge at Nigeria conservation center

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Two turtles rescued last month from a roadside trader in Akwa Ibom Statesouth-south Nigeria has taken refuge in a conservation center in Uyo.

Enim Akwa, a pilot in Akwa Ibom, bought the turtles from the trader who stood by the roadside along a highway looking for buyers.

The poor animals would probably have become meat in a family pot somewhere, had it not been for Mr. Akwa’s intervention.

Wild animals, otherwise known as bushmeat, are considered a rich source of protein for many Nigerian families.

More than 70% of urban Nigerians have consumed bushmeat at some point in their lives, according to a research conducted in 2020 by Wildaid, an organization that works to reduce the global consumption of wild animals.

Mr. Akwa, accompanied by his wife Enwongo, took the rescued turtles to the Uyo Biodiversity Conservation Center and handed them over to Edem Eniang, a wildlife teacher and director of the center.

“I really admire Enim and how firmly rooted he is when it comes to wildlife and the environment. He walks the talk, really,” Ms Enwongo said of her husband in a Facebook post.

Mr Akwa had a similar “turtle rescue mission” about two years ago, his wife said.

Turtle Trading Point

There are more than 40 turtles at the Biodiversity Preservation Center, brought by various people who rescued them, according to Eniang. Some of them injured and traumatized.

One of the turtles brought to the center by Mr. Akwa had a cracked shell. He would be assessed and helped to heal before he was eventually released back into the wild with the others, Mr Eniang said.

Locals usually hunt turtles around marshes close to the Atlantic Ocean.

In addition, Mr Eniang said several other people are brought to Akwa Ibom from neighboring Cross River State, where people are afraid to openly sell them because the state’s national park rangers are empowered to arrest and prosecute anyone caught trading in wildlife.

The place along the highway where Mr. Akwa bought the turtles is known as a turtle trading point in Akwa Ibom, according to Mr. Eniang.

“Most of the time we go through them, we see them hanging upside down to sell them,” he says.

“So Inim (Akwa) has a habit, if he sees them when he comes home from work, he will take them from those people and bring them for rehabilitation and release in the forest.

“I am really amazed at his interest in the preservation of this species,” added the professor.

The turtles rescued by Mr. Akwa are called tortoise, found mainly in fresh water. Mr Eniang said they were endangered species and therefore should not be hunted, eaten or traded.

Rescued turtles. Photo Enwongo Cleopas-Akwa

“The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) prohibits trade in this species. CITES is domiciled in Nigeria within the Federal Ministry of Environment,” Mr. Eniang said.

“Secondly, the Convention on Biological Diversity, to which Nigeria is also a signatory, prohibits us from trading in it.

“But more importantly, the Endangered Species Act of Nigeria also prohibits, as does the National Parks Act of Nigeria, trade in this species.”

The challenge

Mr Akwa said his love for conservation started in childhood due to the way his father raised him in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria.

“If you catch a bird, for example, my father will just watch you. He will ask you what this bird is for. And you say ‘Oh, I want to keep it’. He will say no problem, can you feed him? And when you say yes, he’ll say let’s see. And if you don’t feed it, by the time you come back from school, it will have released the bird to fly away.

“He instilled in our minds that we have to take care of nature,” he said.

Mr. Akwa said that when he entered secondary school, he joined conservation organizations which helped him increase his knowledge and love for conservation.

Challenge

But the problem here is that people who hunt turtles and other wildlife in Akwa Ibom and other parts of Nigeria can never stop it unless they understand the importance of conservation and also practice it .

Mr. Eniang summed up this challenge succinctly when he told PREMIUM TIMES in a previous report“But how do you plant the conservation label in a hungry mind?

“There is so much hunger in the country, there are so many challenges to survive. So no one will listen to you unless you give them an alternative. We need to build that into the conservation plan.

“Funny enough, on the way home today I saw one (turtle) again. I paid for it. how he had tried to enlighten the woman on why she shouldn’t trade on the poor animal.

“Today they wanted me to pay 5,000 naira but I ended up paying 3,000 naira for it,” he said.


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