Our Friend of the Month is Tunde Morakinyo, a founder of African Nature Investors, working to protect some of Nigeria’s wild places and remaining elephants.
You split your life between Nigeria and the UK…was it your British or your Nigerian experiences that turned you into a conservationist?
It was growing up in Nigeria that turned me into a passionate conservationist. My parents would take my brother, sister and I on excursions every weekend to a forest reserve, a waterfall, a national park or to climb a mountain. As I grew older, I became aware of the destruction of the forests in Nigeria and the fact that no one seemed to be doing anything about it. I was 16 when I decided that I was going to work to save Nigeria’s forests. Several decades later, I’m still as passionate as ever about conservation!
Your NGO, Africa Nature Investors, is focused on reviving a National Park and a Forest Reserve in Nigeria… Please tell us why they are special places.
Gashaka Gumti is Nigeria’s largest National Park and one of its most spectacular. It contains Nigeria’s tallest mountain, Chappal Waddi, as well as rainforests across a range of mountains in the southern part of the park, and savannahs in the northern part that harbour an array of wildlife. Omo Forest Reserve is just north of Lagos and is home to some 60-80 elephants. It is incredible that they have managed to survive. Both Gashaka and Omo deserve to be saved for all Nigerians to enjoy.
Nigeria has only a few hundred elephants remaining… Is there any hope they can be conserved?
The plight of Nigeria’s elephants is serious indeed. There are 4 or 5 scattered populations. All are threatened by ivory poaching and deforestation. However, I believe things are looking up with Nigeria joining the EPI. There is a chance to attract serious funding for protection of elephants in Nigeria and there is a growing political will in the country behind this. Exciting times!
'Wildlife conservation is a greater national priority in East and Southern Africa than it is in West Africa'. Unfortunate truth or misperception?
Hmmmm… a tricky question. Yes indeed, wildlife conservation is a greater political priority in East and Southern Africa. This is because elephants and protected areas in East and Southern Africa attract revenue for development from tourism. I believe it will be key to the survival of elephants in West Africa for protected areas to become economically relevant to the countries they are found in. Protected areas need investment so they can generate revenue, and jobs for local people.
Nigeria has a somewhat daunting reputation for many outsiders… how do you sell it to a prospective first-time visitor?!
I think Nigeria has a really unfair reputation. There are many people who come to Nigeria and fall in love with the place. The key to Nigeria is to go with someone who can show you around. This is even true of Lagos which can be really fun in spite of its size. What many don’t realise is that outside of the cities there is incredible scenery and spectacular wild places (such as Gashaka) with people who still live a very gentle rural life like much of Africa. And there is the energy and friendliness of Nigerians, which I always miss when I am back in the UK.