Recently, the Federal Government, through the Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), disclosed that it had safely confiscated a cache of illegally processed export-bound donkey skins valued at N42 million nationwide, a development that should further encourage NAQS’s input into the economy. TAIWO HASSAN reports
Indeed, Nigeria can be counted lucky as one country in the African continent that can boast of different wildlife in her domain. The establishment of different reserves and zoos across the country for safety of these animals has boosted influx of foreigners, thereby boosting the country’s foreign exchange (forex) generation from wildlife. However, of late, it is saddening that the comfort zone of these animals has been encroached by intruders, who see them as prey for consumption, overexploitation and illegal trading of their skins for exports. Notwithstanding, one of such interesting wildlife facing extinction in the country is donkeys as there are now high demand for its skin.
Following the alarm raised over the spate of illegal slaughtering of donkeys for trading in their skins nationwide, the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), the national agricultural quarantine authority of the federation and the single point of command for all agricultural quarantine activities in Nigeria, moved in to salvage the situation. The Director-General of NAQS, Dr. Vincent Isegbe, said that rangers, who slaughter them and also trade on their skins illegally in underground market, has become a source of concern to the Federal Government, thus the need to step up and protect this unique animal in Nigeria. Isegbe said: “The spate of mounting demands for donkey skins has fostered a ravenous underground market for the product, resulting in a relentless open season on the donkey population. “It is sensible and critical to find the sweet spot between the extremes of doctrinaire preservation of donkeys, which is ideal, but impracticable and the unregulated, free-for-all exploitation of the donkeys, which is profligate and irresponsible. This is a delicate balancing act that calls for the structuring and standardization of the value chain in order to maintain and restock the national herd population of donkeys by improved breeding, ranching and other innovative ways.”
Speaking further, the NAQS DG explained that donkeys were globally recognised as endangered species and that Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). He said that the country is, therefore, obligated to institute all reasonable safeguards to protect the surviving breeds of donkeys within her borders from the possible threat of biodiversity loss and extinction. Indeed, the global population of donkeys has suffered a collapse over the past decade. The impact of climate change is projected to aggravate their depletion. This has inspired conservationists’ efforts to promote their welfare. In line with this trend, NAQS recently assessed the risk environment of Nigerian donkeys and found it concerning. NAQS tabled its findings and recommendations on the developmental needs of donkey in 2017 before the National Council of Agriculture, the highest policy-making body on agriculture in the federation. It was on the basis of this report that the government designated donkey skin an export prohibition list item.
Donkey skins seizures
Following the Federal Government’s directive to regularise trade in donkey skin in order to mitigate the vulnerability of Nigerian donkeys to overexploitation, the quarantine service disclosed that it safely confiscated a cache of illegally processed export-bound donkey skin estimated to be worth N42 million nationwide. The agency in a statement by its Head of Media, Communications and Strategies, Dr Gozie Nwodo, said NAQS seized the donkey skins during a string of precision raids on underground donkey skin warehouses and slaughter camps across the country. This came on the heels of Federal Government’s resolve to regulate the donkey market to prevent the animal from going into extinction. According to NAQS, the raids were carried out with a detachment of men of the Nigerian Police from the Force Animal Branch (FAB). The agency said it carried out the rthe country is, therefore, obligated to institute all reasonable safeguards to protect the surviving breeds of donkeys within her borders
Illegal donkey skins trade
The Head, Animal Quarantine Department, NAQS, Dr. Abidodun Akinjo, stated that despite the prohibition, NAQS noticed that there were considerable donkey skin transactions. In the past three months, he explained the agency had worked hard to disorient the network behind this illicit activity. “We found out that foreign nationals were inducing and instigating this wanton depopulation of Nigerian donkeys. Donkey skin is a highly prized raw material in Asia. Knowing that Nigeria has good donkey numbers, they have spent time and resources to cultivate a loyal supply network, which makes the overkill and delivers the donkey skin. ‘’The sole interest of the donkey skin dealers is instant profiteering. Hence, they do not spare a thought beyond the exchange of money for donkey skin. Neither do they care about breeding donkeys to maintain the carrying capacity of the animals to ensure perpetuity of the goose that lays the golden eggs. “The sourcing, transportation, slaughtering and flaying of the donkeys for export of its hide are dismal and unsafe. They are often conducted in ways that constitute environmental hazard and danger to public health. “That is why the NAQS is embarking on joint special operations with the police across the country and at all interstate control posts to checkmate exportbound stockpiling of donkey skin.’’
The quarantine service will engage all stakeholders as much as possible to achieve these fundamentals in order to make the export trade in donkey skin advantageous for everybody, including generations yet unborn.
With the illicit trade in donkey skins on the rise, it is now germane for NAQS to widen its searchlight to ensure the protection of donkeys in Nigeria so as not to go into extinction.