THE DEATH OF ‘ALAGBA’

could do more to protect

The recently of a famous , named ‘Alagba’, at the palace of the traditional ruler in Ogbomosho, , has elicited reactions from across the . Said to have outlived several kings in the town, and very as a pet, it is no surprise that many feel a sense of loss.

, the death of ‘Alagba’ has raised concerns among conservationists who believe these reptiles are almost extinct in the in due to the of traditional institutions, particularly monarchs, native , sorcerers and, of course, rich who keep tortoise illegally as .

Ordinarily, the tortoise is highly vulnerable, particularly because it cannot take from , so people simply pick them from floors. While are several species in Nigeria, the ‘Alagba’ specie is ‘centrochelys sulcata’. It is commonly called Spurred Tortoise, according to Edem A. Eniang, of Wildlife Resources Management, Herpetology and Department of Forestry and Natural Management, University of Uyo, Ibom State. This specie of tortoise used to exist in Nigeria, and was originally found around Borno, , and States. But the few of them in the country today are in captivity and because these species are almost locally extinct in Nigeria, what is seen in most is trafficked into the country from , , , and West .

Sadly, habitat destruction and fragmentation are among the biggest threats to their survival. Moreover, there is also heavy internal market within Nigeria that is by hunters who forage for tortoises in the thick forests of the southern parts of the country. This internal is also fuelled by an understanding that the tortoise has become more or less a symbol ’s item for the monarchs and the rich in the country. This is completely bizarre and puts Nigeria in a negative in the comity of nations. Also, people in some communities eat the flesh as a delicacy. Interestingly, the exact number of tortoises in existence, in the wild or in captivity, in Nigeria is unknown because no one has done such .

The problems of tortoise conservation in Nigeria habitat degradation (through uncontrolled logging, agricultural projects, plantations, highway and , and exploitation for fuelwood), over-hunting and poaching. Steps taken so far to protect wildlife include the creation of one National Park and 18 Reserves, enactment of wildlife laws, signing of international treaties, and manpower development. These measures have however failed to produce the desired effect owing largely to , low level of funding, inadequate game laws and weak enforcement of existing legal provisions. Several laws protect the tortoise, like other wildlife species, in Nigeria and these are: The ; Convention on Biological ; NESREA Act; National Park Service Act; Convention on migratory species; several states environmental protection laws and edicts.

The Convention on in Endangered Species (CITES) is the strongest global protecting endangered animals, tortoises inclusive. protect different endangered tortoises in Nigeria. The should intervene more positively in favour of conservation by creating more national parks and assume joint responsibility with the states government for formulating wildlife laws. Also, communities where tortoise exists must play a prominent role in their conservation.

Meanwhile, there is a controversy around the exact of ‘Alagba’ which was believed to have lived 344 years before its death. This claim can be -checked by scientists if the carcass is well-embalmed. Conservationists say the carapace (shell) can indicate the age of the tortoise by the number of concentric rings, much like the cross-section of a tree. If it is not too late, scientists should be brought in to confirm the real age of the late ‘Alagba’.

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