The gathering, as expected, was impressive, laced with the presence of school children whose curiosity to see some of their favorite animals commonly seen on cartoons, was high. They came from far and near and at the end, they not only had the opportunity to see hundreds of these wildlife, but also had the privilege of choosing names for them.
The event, first of its kind in Abeokuta, Ogun State, was the official opening of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) Wildlife Park, held at the zoo car park inside the Library complex.
The Deputy Chief Coordinator of the OOPL, Ayodele Aderinwale, led the top management team and kept the chief promoter and former Nigerian president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s big surprise for the day till the end.
Aderinwale, who kicked off the ceremony with his welcome address, hinted that the concept of the wildlife park in the Presidential Library had been part of the project from inception. He thanked the committee that come up with the park for a job well done and enjoined the community to support the initiative, assuring that both visitors and workers will get adequate protection in and around the park.
The chairperson, OOPL Wildlife Park planning committee and the National President Nigerian Association of Zoological Gardens and Wildlife Parks (NAZAP), Dr. Olajumoke Morenikeji, in her address described former President Obasanjo as a great man.
“Today is a very beautiful day; it is a day we are very excited and happy about because OOPL has included a very important thing into the foundation, and that is the Wildlife Park. President Obasanjo has shown that he is a very great man because anybody that cares for people and remembers to care for animals and the environment is a great man,” she said.
On the state of wildlife in the country, Morenikeji hinted that the country was blessed with vast animal and plant resources, some of which are indigenous.
“However, five animals that are critically endangered in Nigeria include West African lion (Panthera leo leo) listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. Others include Cross River Gorilla, Cameroonian forest shrew, White-throated guenon and Red-eared guenon.
“In Africa, the elephants, African penguin, black rhinoceros, African lion, cheetah, African wild dog, Pygmy hippopotamus, mountain gorilla, Ethiopian wolf, pangolins, Addax are all endangered.”
She emphasized that “there is a need for key players to revitalize species protection/conservation agendas and actions that will educate people on the essence of conserving species, and initiate Species Survival Programs (SSP) and Conservation breeding for those species that their numbers have drastically reduced.
“The Nigerian Government has tried by gazetting and setting aside some portions of the landscape to protect and preserve the country’s biodiversity. Nevertheless, there is a need to involve all stakeholders. It is no news that these government protected areas are still being encroached upon and their resources fast declining.”
The planning committee chairperson called on the Federal Government to shift its attention to Wildlife Tourism and start to reduce its over dependence on oil, adding that tourism and wildlife tourism could be used to bring a lot of resources into the country.
“If you look at countries like Kenya, what do they depend on? They depend on wildlife tourism. If I go to Kenya today, basically, I must visit their parks, zoos and facilities, this is an aspect we should focus on,” she said.
She further appealed to the federal government to ensure the safe return of the abducted director of Ogba Zoo in Edo State, Dr. Andy Ehanire, who was kidnapped on September 24.
To the Ogun State Government, the OOPL WILDLIFE park will no doubt make positive impact in the economy of the state, particularly at a time that the federal government was looking to reduce over dependence on oil.
The State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Bashorun Muyiwa Oladipo, said the innovation was a worthy idea, which would further add to the tourism potentials of the state and the country.
“This is a wildlife park, a zoo where you have animals in their natural state,” Oladipo said.
Oladipo however noted that the opening of the park would increase the influx of people and tourists into the state capital, adding that job opportunities would be made available, just as it would have a positive impact on the economy of the state.
The event later dovetailed into the name adoption session and a friend of the OOPL, simply identified as Prof. Afolabi was the first to adopt an animal.
Afolabi chose a cub and announced an adoption price tag of N1m. The cub was named “ADE” to the admiration of guests.
Through an open draw for invited schools, Glorious King Academy Abeokuta was picked and it suggested “AMANDA” for a foal (baby horse), while a stri*ped Hyena was named “SPY” as suggested by pupils of Golden Grace International School.
The Towulade of Akinale, in Ewekoro local government area of Ogun State, Oba Olufemi Ogunleye, who was a special guest adopted a spotted Hyena named “Adewunmi” while The Bells School Sango Otta adopted a foal named “BELLS”.
The managing director of OOPL Ventures, Mr. Vitalis Ortese, announced President Obasanjo’s adoption. According to Ortese, “Baba has directed that he will like to take one of the cubs for N1m.”
He explained that the name adoption of the animals was aimed at recruiting individuals and corporate partners who will support the park in providing the financial resources for the preservation and care of animals that are on the brink of extinction because of increased human activities.
Thereafter, guests and pupils were led into the zoo by the tourism commissioner who formally declared the OOPL Wildlife and Park opened.
Some of the animals and birds in the zoo include African tortoises, African crested porcupine, African rock python, dwarf crocodiles, African caracals, desert Lynx, jackal, sported hyena, striped hyena, palm civet, guinea pig, camels, donkeys, olive baboon, speckled pigeon, lion and others.