The 22nd day of March 2018 will not be forgotten easily in the history of BPC Uyo Nigeria as the day marked the historical visit of the world’s leading primatologist Dr Russell Mittermeier, chief Conservation Officer of the Global Wildlife Conservation at Austin Texas, USA who came to Akwa Ibom State to see conservation activities going on in the state. Dr Mittermeier has been the president, Primate Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) for decades but has never visited Nigeria. Accompanied by the CEO of Biodiversity Preservation Center (BPC) Nigeria and Ms Rachel Ikemeh of South West/ Niger Delta Forest Project as well as Dr Inaoyom Imong of Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Calabar, Nigeria, Dr Mittermeier arrived at the palace of the village head of Obong Itam community, Itu LGA where he met and interacted with the village head Eteidung Ekop Nna Akpan. Other dignitaries who were on hand to receive the special guest to Akwa Ibom State were National coordinator of the United Nations Development Programmes (UNDP), Global Environmental Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme (SGP) Nigeria, Mrs Ibironke Olubamise who came all the way from Abuja, as well as a leading Botanist, Professor (Mrs) Margaret Bassey of the Department of Botany and Ecological Studies University of Uyo post graduate students of Uniuyo amongst others.
An apparently excited village head welcomed the visitor who told the chief that he was in Nigeria to assess the situation with endangered wildlife species conservation. He reported that he came to Nigeria specifically to see the Sclater’s Guenon (Monkey), Calabar Angwantibo, White-throated Monkey and Red-capped Mangabey. He said that these unique Primate species were so special and meant so much for the International community. He thanked the village head of Obong Itam for creating the congenial atmosphere for the operators of BPC Nigeria to be able to run the Itam Monkey Project since 2010. In his speech, the CEO of BPC Nigeria and Head Wildlife Ecology Unit, Department of Forestry and Natural Environmental Management University of Uyo, Dr Edem Eniang welcomed Dr Russ to Itam Monkey Project which he said was his pet project, a gift to his native homeland and people, a democratic dividend of sort.
He went on to say that our primates remain our heritage which must be promoted and conserved for generations to come. He described Dr Russell Mittermeier as a black man in a white Skin who has proudly adopted the nick name Calabar Angwantibo as his new nick name. Dr Eniang assured the gathering that Dr Russell’s visit marks a positive turning point in the conservation history of Nigeria because three endangered primates were in global focus with huge potentials to boost Ecotourism in the Country. He thanked Dr Mittermeier for accepting to visit Akwa Ibom State and promised him a most rewarding stay.
The village head in his response welcomed the August visitor in March and assured him that his ancestors had lived in harmony with the monkeys of Itam since ancient times and had bequeathed his people with conservation consciousness which has enabled the Sclater’s Guenon to survive in Itam landscape up till present day. He assured the team that the community will not relent in planting trees to safeguard the dwindling habitat and thanked members of BPC Nigeria and their partners for keeping up a viable conservation programme in his domain. The village head appealed to the team to come back to the village the following day to visit the monkeys since the day had long been spent and that it would be better to view the monkeys in their native habitat.
Dr Eniang and his team proceeded to Mbiakong community in Uruan LGA to see the newly established Community Wildlife Sanctuary which is the richest site for the three endangered tortoises of Nigeria namely: Kinixys erosa, Kinixys homena and Pelusius niger as well as Red-capped Mangabey Monkey. The team were received by the village head of Mbiakong Chief Hyacinth Nyong Ekpenyong who thanked the visitor for visiting his community and urged Dr Eniang to take Dr Mittermeier to the site where he would be able to see species of interest. He also assured the team of his total commitment to conservation of endangered species and forests.
A Sclater’s monkey at Obong Itam, Itu LGA. Photo by Edem Eniang
At the end of the tour, Dr Mittermeier thanked everyone who participated and encouraged all the students in the team not to relent in their chosen profession and research. He assured all that with the level of conservation activities currently being promoted by BPC Nigeria,, he is optimistic that much more could be achieved in the short, medium and long term. He urged the relevant government authorities to invest in in-situ biodiversity conservation especially by creating a Protcted Area in Akwa Ibom State. He said that he was very certain that Dr Eniang’s team are capable of leading the strategic direction for conservation in Nigeria
Finally, Dr. Mittermeier said the visit to Uyo was really outstanding and He was quite impressed by what BPC is doing and the two communities protecting Cercopithecus sclateri and Cercocebus torquatus
“I don’t think I have ever had such good viewing conditions anywhere in West Africa as we had for the Cercopithecus sclateri in Obong Itam, Itu LGA, Akwa Ibom State”…Dr. Russell 2018