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1.1       Background of the Study

The African continent has an abundant and richly varied wildlife endowment surpassing most places on earth. This endowment is a natural heritage for the present and future generations, with several beneficial uses of the wildlife resources. It has some animals that are rare and not found in many places in the world.While wildlife has a wide array of benefits, economic benefits in many cases are perhaps the most emphasized. Wildlife plays a major role in the economy in more than one way. Principally, wildlife is an economic sector in its own right in terms of providing employment and contributing to the national income through earnings from wildlife tourism.

Apart from its economic value, wildlife has from time immemorial been a valuable natural resource in Africa, with several other traditional beneficial uses to society. This does not in any way mean that wildlife can only exist with reference to its uses to human kind. Indeed it has a right to exist in itself without such reference. Nevertheless, there are three major traditional uses of wild animals in Africa, namely, uses for sociocultural purposes, nutrition and folk medicine. These are what are referred to as “traditional customary uses” of wildlife.

Before the arrival of the colonialists, the indigenous African communities co-existed with wild animals, utilizing them as they needed, and in accordance only with African customary practices and values (Muriuki, 1996). These communities hunted wild animals for food and other uses such as clothing, bedding and cultural purposes. Many ethnic groups, however, had totem animals-animals believed to be sacred and which were therefore left unharmed or which could only be utilized for prayers or medicinal purposes. Generally, there were traditional customs, rules, taboos, beliefs and practices of the various ethnic groups relating to wildlife (ODA, 1996). With the advent of imperialism, things changed dramatically as all over a sudden the colonial governments imposed stiff laws on wildlife utilization, mainly on hunting and wildlife products. Takirambudde has observed that colonialism in Africa created “a new legal order to replace the traditional structures and ideology” (Tarakimbudde, 1988).

Few people in Nigeria are fully aware of wildlife resources and the extent of their use. Many conservation areas (national parks and game reserves) are being underutilized because of the lack of public enlightenment (Adeola 1983). Wildlife has been utilized for the welfare of mankind in many parts of the world and has gained prominence as a revenue source in numerous African countries (Ajayi 1973, 1975b; Asibey 1972; Crawford 1968, 1974; Hartog et al. 1973). If managed properly as a renewable natural resource, wildlife can provide a sustained source of protein for human consumption and also attract international tourists who bring foreign exchange.

Most farmers in rural areas in Nigeria depend solely on wild animals for their daily animal protein supply. In some cases, farmers combine their subsistence farming with trapping, hunting, and encircling animals with fire, especially during the dry season. In developed countries like the United States, hunting is primarily for recreation, but in Nigeria and most of the African countries, it is often for survival.

African farmers depend on bushmeat (all wildlife including birds, rodents, and larger animals) for both food and cash income. Nigerian farmers are known to hunt no longer for their immediate domestic use alone, but largely to obtain meat to sell in the urban and other population centers where bushmeat is more expensive. Ajayi (1978) estimated that 20 percent of the animal protein consumed by rural communities in the southern states of Nigeria is derived from bushmeat. Several writers (including Akum 1978; Mossman 1975; Topps 1975; Deane et al. 1971; Johnston 1971) have also stressed the important role played by wild animals in the diet of people living in rural communities, especially in the coastal regions where cattle do not thrive because of tsetse flies and other disease vectors. Riney (1967), Asibey et al. (1975), and Asibey (1976a) confirmed that bushmeat constituted over 80 percent of the fresh meat consumed in Ghana.

The Okomu National Park, formerly the Okomu Wildlife Sanctuary, is a forest block within the 1,082 km² Okomu Forest Reservein the Ovia South-West Local Government Area of Edo State in Nigeria. The park is about 60 km North West of Benin City. The park holds a small fragment of the rich forest that once covered the region, and is the last habitat for many endangered species. It continues to shrink as villages encroach on it, and is now less than one third of its original size Williams (2008). Powerful corporations are involved in plantation development and logging concessions around the park, which also pose a threat Lutz (1998).

1.2       Statement of the Problem

With the advent of the modern society there has been a paradigm shift from the traditional customary approach that emphasizes use to a western approach that emphasizes value. Accordingly the contemporary value of wildlife includes economic value; ecological value; medicinal value; educational and scientific value; and recreational value. This seems to relegate to the backyard the traditional customary uses of wildlife, which has largely upset the symbiotic relationship that has always existed between Africans and their wildlife.

1.3       Objectives of the Study

The study sought to know the traditional customary uses of wildlife in some communities around Okomu National Park. Specifically, the study sought to;

1.      examine the impact of the use of wildlife in traditional costumes in Okomu National Park.

2.      examine the challenges and problems of traditional customary uses of wildlife in Nigeria.

3.      examine the modern uses of wildlife in Africa.

4.      proffer solutions to the challenges and problems facing traditional customary uses of wildlife in Nigeria.

1.4       Research Questions

1.      Is there a significant impact of the use of wildlife in traditional costumes in Okomu National Park?

2.      What are the challenges and problems of traditional customary uses of wildlife in Nigeria?

3.      What are the modern uses of wildlife in Africa?

4.      What are the solutions to the challenges and problems facing traditional customary uses of wildlife in Nigeria?

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