Our Burning Planet


Rangers safeguard few remaining animals in Nigerian game reserve in battle against illegal wildlife trade

Rangers safeguard few remaining animals in Nigerian game reserve in battle against illegal wildlife trade
Rangers from the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State, Nigeria, in the field. (Photo: Wild Africa Fund)

Rangers in Nigeria’s Yankari Game Reserve have received training to confront poaching syndicates and other threats, protecting the remaining elephants in an area that’s a key source for the illegal wildlife trade.

Ahead of World Ranger Day on 31 July, two senior game rangers confront the daily dangers and challenges they face in their efforts to conserve and protect the remaining elephants and lions in Nigeria from poachers and other threats within the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State. 

Coming from communities just outside Yankari, Yusef Lawal and Jonah Omar felt compelled to do their part to help end the war on Nigeria’s wildlife and natural heritage in the game reserve, which is home to the country’s remaining elephants and lions, along with other wildlife and flora. 

Besides the poaching of elephant tusks and the bones, teeth, claws and skins of lions, Lawal and Omar say that poachers also target antelope and warthogs inside Yankari. However, battling the poachers and promoting meaningful conservation with involvement from the surrounding communities proved difficult without proper ranger training.

This was where the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) stepped in and provided international standard training for Yankari game rangers.

Nigeria is recognised as a key source and transit country for the international illegal wildlife trade over the last decade, according to the National Strategy to Combat Wildlife and Forest Crime in Nigeria. It shows that efforts to strengthen the capacity of rangers in the field need to be prioritised to ensure rangers can carry out their duties effectively. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Nigerian conservationist and young eco-warriors battle wildlife crime with innovative methods

Ranger Yusef Lawal speaks about his passion for protecting the wildlife and natural environment within the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State, Nigeria. (Photo: Wild Africa Fund)

Ranger Jonah Omar speaks about his wildlife conservation work in the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State, Nigeria. (Photo: Wild Africa Fund)

Ranger Jonah Omar with some of the other rangers in the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State, Nigeria. (Photo: Wild Africa Fund)

Both Lawal and Omar say that the ranger training they received from WCS, and the leadership at the reserve, made a massive difference in their ranger efforts, individually and as a team. 

Omar explains that their work as rangers now includes smart patrolling, community awareness, law enforcement and research.

“Before WCS, we were just doing the work without knowing the basics… We learnt so much about marksmanship and weapons handling, how to carry out a patrol and how to engage an enemy,” he says.

Lawal says, “We had no training so we would just chase people and try to catch them, but now we have the skills to safely arrest suspects professionally. The training has changed the way we work … even our appearances. It has instilled pride and discipline. Our camaraderie and morale have improved. We used to be disunited but now we’re a tight team.”

They also use their field experience to go into communities to explain the negative impacts of poaching and deforestation, why locals should be concerned, and get them to help put a stop to these activities. Now, the rangers from Yankari travel across Nigeria to share this knowledge with other rangers.

WCS Yankari director Nachamada Geoffrey said: “When I started here I felt it was mission impossible – the guys were not trained and they didn’t understand the benefit of collecting data when they go out on patrols. They had no uniforms. We realised immediately that there is a need for international standard training.

“Holding the tusk of a dead elephant makes me sad … I realise that if we don’t continue to do what we are doing, and even improve on it, it means in the next few years we might have no elephants left.”

Rangers working in the field in the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State, Nigeria. (Photo: Wild Africa Fund)

Rangers on patrol in the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State, Nigeria. (Photo: Wild Africa Fund)

What drives rangers

Lawal was inspired to become a ranger after his grandfather told him a story about the near extinction of giraffes and how the species had been completely phased out in some reserves. 

Realising that such a strong animal was under threat encouraged him to dedicate his life to protecting the remaining animals in the reserve near his home. 

Omar learned from his father about the work that rangers do and eventually set out to become one, safeguarding endangered species and combating illegal activities when he was employed by Nigerian National Parks in 1999.

Lawal said, “Being a ranger is very hard work … What we do here in the reserve is to protect our animals, especially elephants who move out and disrupt farming in the surrounding area. 

“The WCS put together a special team of rangers with vehicles, smart technology and everything to protect them. There are also other teams specially set up to protect the other animals.”

The teams that protect the elephants make use of a special vehicle to corral the animals when they move out of the reserve. At Yankari, an elephant guardian reports movement to a management control room that then alerts the team of where the elephants are trying to get out. 

Lawal said the elephants typically move out at night. They end up raiding local crops, upsetting local communities. 

As rangers, they mobilise to protect the elephants and stop them from disrupting communities and destroying farmlands. DM

To read all about Daily Maverick’s recent The Gathering: Earth Edition, click here.

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