How discovery of leopard is changing Yankari’s story
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