Our Friend of the Month for January is Emmanuel Olabode, project coordinator for the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, leading on the ground efforts to save the elephants in Omo Forest in South-West Nigeria. You can learn more about Emmanuel and Nigeria’s elephants, by watching our January 26th special event, which includes a special film from Omo. Register for the event here.
Please tell us where you grew up and how you became interested in nature conservation.
I grew up in Sagamu, in south-west Nigeria. As a little boy I loved going to the forest and watching animals, even rodents or squirrels, digging holes, or fetching and hiding food. It was a love of seeing wildlife in natural habits. Eventually, in 2004, I went to study Wildlife Resources Management at the University of Ibadan.
How many years have you been working at Omo Forest Reserve? Can you remember your first visit to Omo, and what impressions you had?
I’ve been working at Omo for almost 7 years. I first visited in February 2015, when I joined the great team of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation. I felt so excited to step in a forest elephant’s footprints, and saw that Omo could be a safe haven for forest elephants in Nigeria if it is well managed.
Nigeria is not famous for its elephants; what do your friends in cities such as Lagos or Ibadan make of your work?
That's very true. A lot of people don’t know we have elephants in Nigeria, let alone so close to Lagos. Often I have to show people video of the elephants before they believe me. And then people ask me, ‘why should we protect elephants and nature?’ I try to explain that forests are our life support systems and our planet sits in a delicate balance where everything is connected and interdependent. For instance, the elephants help forest trees survive. And the forest brings economic, social, environmental, health and spiritual benefits to mankind.
Omo Forest's elephants are very elusive: have you ever actually seen them with your own eyes, or only on camera traps?!
Yes, sighting such elusive animals is a game of luck, but I have had some great moments of direct sightings here in Omo.
What about young Nigerians? Do you feel attitudes towards the environment are changing in your country?
I think with the social media revolution people are getting more aware about nature and the environment generally, but a lot still needs to be done to change attitudes. We need conservation ambassadors, including politicians and entertainment celebrities, to increase environmental consciousness among the youth.