How dis­cov­ery of leop­ard is chang­ing Yankari’s story

Sunday Trust - - SUNDAY MENU -

John Umar’s main duty as a ranger at the Yankari Games Re­serve in Bauchi State is to en­sure that no harm comes to the an­i­mals there, es­pe­cially from ma­raud­ing poach­ers.

His job and that of other rangers in the re­serve has been aided by hid­den cam­eras that the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety (WCS) in­stalled in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the au­thor­i­ties.

About 24 cam­eras have been placed across the length and breadth of the re­serve to help check the ac­tiv­i­ties of poach­ers.

For that, Umar does not only go on pa­trol, but he also re­views the im­ages cap­tured by the hid­den cam­eras, to know if there have been any in­tru­sion by poach­ers.

While check­ing the cam­eras re­cently, Umar made a star­tling dis­cov­ery - one that has since changed the nar­ra­tive of the games re­serve.

One of the cam­eras had cap­tured an un­usual im­age of a leop­ard, an an­i­mal that was thought to have dis­ap­peared from the pro­tected area al­most three decades ago.

The news of the sight­ing of the big cat, which au­thor­i­ties said was a male leop­ard, has since at­tracted the at­ten­tion of wildlife en­thu­si­asts within and out­side the coun­try.

For many years, the Yankari Games Re­serve in Bauchi State, which was known for har­bour­ing many species of an­i­mals like ele­phants, was no longer rich in games, es­pe­cially those in the car­niv­o­rous cat fam­ily, such as leop­ards.

“Over­time, many an­i­mals, es­pe­cially those in the cat fam­ily, be­came scarce, and most of them were thought to be ex­tinct,” said Jib­rin Isah, the man­ager of the Sumu Na­tional Park (an­other games re­serve lo­cated in Gan­juwa Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Area of Bauchi State). He said many of such an­i­mals were in the park in the 1950s and 1970s.

The re­cent dis­cov­ery of the leop­ard in Yankari had brought hope to the Bauchi State Gov­ern­ment, con­ser­va­tion­ists and peo­ple in­ter­ested in tourism, Isah told Daily Trust on Sun­day at the Yankari Na­tional Park.

He said the leop­ard was caught by one of the cam­eras pro­vided by the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety (WCS) to check­mate poach­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, as well as mon­i­tor wildlife in the park.

“We have many cam­eras at var­i­ous strate­gic places to mon­i­tor ac­tiv­i­ties and wildlife in the park, es­pe­cially the con­stant ac­tiv­i­ties of poach­ers that are killing an­i­mals and driv­ing them away from Yankari,” the sole ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Yankari Games Re­serve, En­gi­neer Habu Mam­man, said.

“Pic­tures taken by the cam­eras are nor­mally down­loaded and an­a­lysed ev­ery two weeks. So it was dur­ing these rou­tine checks that the picture of the leop­ard was dis­cov­ered,’’ he said.

Mam­man added that their anal­y­sis showed that the leop­ard is an adult male and is not ex­pected to be alone.

“It was caught on cam­era around an area called Ton­g­long Hill. It is an area in­hab­ited by hye­nas, jack­als, foxes and other flesh-eat­ing crea­tures of the cat fam­ily. The ap­pear­ance of the leop­ard around the area is unique, in the sense that in the past, leop­ards were not thought to be in the forests of West Africa. And they are not a com­mon sight be­cause peo­ple are more fa­mil­iar with cheetahs and tigers that are mostly found in north­ern and south­ern African forests,’’ he added.

He fur­ther said that an­other rare mem­ber of the cat fam­ily called cara­cal cat was also caught by one of the cam­eras, but its dis­cov­ery was not as pop­u­lar and pub­li­cised as that of the leop­ard.

“The pres­ence of these an­i­mals might be a clue to some­thing more spec­tac­u­lar and a pos­si­ble dis­cov­ery of more an­i­mals that might have re­lo­cated to other places and thought to be ex­tinct. Con­ser­va­tion ef­forts by Gov­er­nor Mo­hammed Ab­dul­lahi Abubakar, which brought many in­ter­ested par­ties to pro­tect the flora and fauna of the Yankari Games Re­serve, are pay­ing off as many an­i­mals have now found peace and are thriv­ing.

“Gi­raffe, which had not been in Yankari for decades, is now thriv­ing at Sumu Na­tional Park. We also have ze­bra and other an­i­mals that are not na­tive to Yankari or any­where in Nige­ria. They were in­tro­duced and are do­ing well and mul­ti­ply­ing at Sumu. They may later be in­tro­duced here. The rea­son why they are kept there is that there were no an­i­mals like lions, hye­nas or the jack­als that would be killing and feed­ing on them. So they are there to be reared and mul­ti­plied,’’ he added.

The In­ter­na­tional Union of Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (IUCN) listed leop­ard as vul­ner­a­ble an­i­mals likely to be­come en­dan­gered. The cat is be­lieved to have been ex­tir­pated in Hong Kong, Sin­ga­pore, Kuwait, Libya, Tu­nisia and Morocco.

Pic­tures of the Yankari leop­ard posted on so­cial me­dia have ig­nited en­thu­si­asm in many peo­ple, es­pe­cially those who have never been to the Yankari Games Re­serve and those who never thought that a leop­ard could be found any­where near the park.

Gov­er­nor Mo­hammed Abubakar, who posted the pic­tures on his tweeter han­dle, wrote, “I am ex­cited to see the bio­di­ver­sity @Yankari Games Re­serve. Con­ser­va­tion pays. We hope more an­i­mals come.’’

The WCS also tweeted, “Such an ex­cit­ing dis­cov­ery, leop­ard recorded by WCS cam­era trap in Yankari.’’

Many peo­ple who com­mented on the dis­cov­ery of the leop­ard ex­pressed ex­cite­ment, say­ing they would like to visit the park. Oth­ers prayed that the leop­ard be pro­tected from poach­ers who might re­new their on­slaught on the park.

The sole ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Yankari Games Re­serve, how­ever, noted that the leop­ard would pose a chal­lenge to its man­age­ment be­cause var­i­ous pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures must be taken to pro­tect both the big cat and peo­ple’s lives in the park.

“We have to start think­ing of what to do next. We must for­tify the places where hu­mans stay or pass through be­cause a leop­ard is very ag­gres­sive and is known to at­tack hu­mans. So we must for­tify our games view­ing ve­hi­cles and ed­u­cate our work­ers and peo­ple com­ing to the park.

“Un­like a lion that wouldn’t mind your pres­ence, a leop­ard is very hos­tile to both an­i­mals and hu­mans. It also adapts to var­i­ous ter­rains be­cause it can climb trees and launch a sur­prise at­tack, swim in rivers or hide in thick­ets for an at­tack, with­out warn­ing. Al­though its dis­cov­ery is a wel­come de­vel­op­ment, it also calls for dras­tic mea­sures. As I told you, it is an adult male, so there is a pos­si­bil­ity that other mem­bers of its fam­ily are also in the park,’’ he added.

Ac­cord­ing to him, the con­ser­va­tion ef­forts be­ing im­ple­mented through var­i­ous part­ner­ships with rel­e­vant na­tional and in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions have greatly im­proved the con­di­tion of the park.

“The an­i­mals, es­pe­cially lions and ele­phants, are grad­u­ally re­turn­ing to the re­serve. You know that ele­phants are very emo­tional and be­have like hu­mans. They will not stay in any place where they will be con­stantly dis­turbed or killed. If they are see­ing the corpses of their own, they will not stay in that place.

“They will also hide for a long time if there is too much noise. When we car­ried out an ex­er­cise to track them, not long ago, they all re­lo­cated and hid in the hills around the area where the leop­ard was spot­ted. They re­lo­cated be­cause of the noise from the he­li­copter that fol­lowed their move­ments,’’ he fur­ther said.

The Yankari Games Re­serve was es­tab­lished in 1956 to pre­serve, con­serve and man­age wildlife and eco­tourism. It was opened to the pub­lic in 1962, and since then, it has at­tracted tourists, wildlife en­thu­si­asts, re­searchers and stu­dents from within and out­side the coun­try.

Records have shown that Yankari is home to about 56 dif­fer­ent species of mam­mals, 350 species of birds, 17 dif­fer­ent types of rep­tiles, seven types of am­phib­ians and hun­dreds of species of insects.

Large mam­mals found at the re­serve in­clude the African ele­phants, buf­faloes, an­telopes, bubal har­te­beest; patas; tan­ta­lus mon­keys and ba­boons.

Czech Repub­lic is also in­volved in the con­ser­va­tion ef­forts in the park. A part­ner­ship bro­kered by Gov­er­nor Ab­dul­lahi Abubakar and the Czech Repub­lic brought ex­perts who re­placed wooden bridges with con­crete ones to pro­vide easy ac­cess to games.

The Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety is also in­volved in var­i­ous projects, in­clud­ing the train­ing of rangers on how to han­dle weapons to ward off poach­ers and other in­fil­tra­tors in the re­serve.

Gi­raffes at Sumu Na­tional Park, Gan­juwa Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Area Bauchi State

The Leop­ard caught on Cam­era at Yankari Games Re­serve

Cara­cal Cat also caught on Cam­era at the Yankari Games Re­serve

Ad­min­is­tra­tor, Yankari Games Re­serve En­gi­neer Habu Mam­man

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