When I found out that I’d be moving to Nigeria, I thought I would be saying goodbye to the beautiful greenery, rolling hills and wildlife of Yorkshire and hello to the smoggy heat and grey bustling city life of Lagos.
How wrong could I be?
I never expected to find conservation centres home to Gorillas, Elephants, Monkeys, Crocodiles, Antelope and least of all Pangolins.
I didn’t even know Pangolins were native to Nigeria and I certainly wasn’t expecting to see any in the flesh in my life.
Pangolins are ant eating mammals covered in protective keratin scales and the only mammal known to have this feature. They are nocturnal creatures who spend most of their days curled up in tiny little balls sleeping; something they also do when feeling threatened, curling into a ball to expose their scales whilst using the sharp scales on their tails to lash out.
There are 8 different types of Pangolin, 4 listed as critically endangered and 4 listed as vulnerable and unfortunately, Pangolins are one of the most smuggled mammals in the world due to their meat being seen as a delicacy in China as well as their scales being used for medicinal purposes there.
For all the bad that happens to Pangolins, this is a story of 2 very lucky Pangolins, whom I like to call Mr & Mrs Pangolin.
Two friends and I were exploring a local market here in Nigeria. We had just come out of a Chinese market and my friend spotted what he thought was an Armadillo and some Turtles. After closer inspection I realised that we weren’t dealing with an Armadillo, the animal was a Pangolin.
As they were outside a Chinese market and given what we knew, the fate of the Pangolin was not going to be a good one.
My friend stealthily took a quick photo of the animals and we got out of there.
As soon as we got into the car, I got on the phone to start calling around organisations who could possibly go and rescue Mr Pangolin and the Turtles. My friend was on Google lining up the numbers whilst I kept hitting dead ends.
I remembered reading a BBC article before I came to Nigeria about a man who rescued animals. I knew he was the guy to call but for the life of me I couldn’t remember his name (this bit becomes relevant further on in the story.)
Eventually the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) enquiries team picked up the phone. I explained the situation and they were ready to help. Shortly afterwards, I was able to speak with Joseph Onoja, the Director of Technical Programmes of the NCF who assembled a rescue team straight away.
An hour and a half later a full rescue had been completed. And even better than we thought, there was a Mrs Pangolin as well as a Mr and a total of 8 Turtles. 😍
The rate this team were able to assist was incredible to say the least. I wanted to know more about the team and what their capabilities were so I requested to meet up with them and watch the Pangolins and Turtles be set free- a moment I will never forget.
After a weekend of recuperation with the vet, Dr Mark Ofua, it was time for the animals to be released.
Dr Mark Ofua Pangolin (as he is now known) arrived at the conservation centre with the animals and what a happy sight it was to see them.
I swear I recognised Dr Ofua but just couldn’t place him (again, this will become relevant later.)
As soon as Mr Pangolin woke up and saw the forest around him, I think he knew what was going on. He seemed to get so excited like he knew he was going to be released.
Mrs Pangolin having a quick bath and drink before her release.
After introductions, it was time for the release; we headed for a quiet spot in the bush and first up was Mr Pangolin.
What an incredible moment, seeing this little guy climb his way to freedom. It took all I had not to cry! But that wasn’t the end of it, next up was Mrs Pangolin.
Mrs Pangolin was a little more shy than her other half so we decided to give her some space, release the Turtles and come back to check on her. So next up… the Turtles!
It was decided that 4 would be released at Lekki Conservation Centre and the other 4 at a nearby lake. This way the Turtle population could grow in 2 separate locations.
On the way back over to check on Mrs Pangolin, I had the chance to speak properly with Dr Mark Ofua. It turned out this wasn’t his first Pangolin rescue. He had returned around 20 back into the wild not to mention numerous snakes and other animals local to Nigeria.
Fairly recently he had even rescued a little black cat which was going to be used for ritual purposes. This is one of his few rescues that I think will end up permanently living with him.
I asked Dr Mark Ofua if he checked up on the animals he had released and whether he could track them. After a release, Dr Ofua goes back to site to check on the animals however, unfortunately the funding isn’t there in order for him to attach trackers to the animals.
Tracking is not only important for research into these animals but it also aids their protection. This is where you and I can help. I have set up a justgiving page to raise money for this crucial equipment.
If you can help, no matter how big or small please do so to help Dr Ofua in the amazing work that he does and to help the protection of these animals.
Not only is Dr Ofua a vetenarian who helps to save animals in his spare time, he also tries to educate local kids about animal rights 👌🏻👌🏻. What a guy. You can check him out on Instagram by clicking on this link.
Right… back to Mrs Pangolin. We headed back over to the bush to make sure she was ok and to our delight, we got back to where she was released just in time to see her clambering up a tree 😍.
Shortly after the seeing Mrs Pangolin make her break for freedom, Dr Ofua had a call about another animal in need of his assistance. This time it was a Python.
We swiftly made our way to the entrance of the Conservation Centre where the snake was waiting for him. The poor little guy was tangled up in a fishing line.
Dr Ofua quickly set to work, he made a secure bag to place the snake in (just out of what he could find) and slowly cut the snake free.
After the snake was securely in the bag I jokingly said, “you’ve done that before” to which Dr Ofua replied, ” I’m the snake man of Lagos, you can Google me!”
The penny suddenly dropped! This was the guy I had previously read about and been searching for on the internet when I was scrambling around to find someone to save the Pangolins! You can check out the BBC article about the Lagos Snake Man, here.
This truly was a humbling day. Seeing the work Dr Ofua and the NCF do is incredible and being witness to these endangered, beautiful animals being released back into the wild into a safe place was out of this world.
If you too enjoy seeing wildlife in it’s natural habitat and have a genuine interest in conservation then you should check out Lekki Conservation Centre, either for a visit or as a volunteer.
Please also check out their website. Here you can enquire on how to become a volunteer or even donate to aid the good work they do.
The NCF who run Lekki Conservation Centre, was founded in 1980 by the late Chief S. L. Edu and it 1982 it was registered as a charitable trust.
The foundation has a vision of “a Nigeria where people prosper while living in harmony with nature.” After speaking with Adedamola Ogunsesan, a conservationist at the centre, it became apparent that this vision is as alive now as it was back in 1980.
For more photographs of the centre and some its inhabitants, please see the bottom of the article.
**Top Tips for visiting Lekki Conservation Centre**
- Please be respectful. This is a conservation centre so please put all your litter in the bins provided.
- Use reusable plastic bottle and straws. Not only will this help reduce rubbish at the centre but it will help reduce plastic in the Lagos area and on a wider scale.
- Keep noise to a minimum. This area is home to many animals, it is not your home. Besides, the quieter you are, the better chance you have of spotting something in the wild.
- I would advise going earlier in the day to beat the crowds…. and the traffic.
Please do all you can to help this precious planet and its inhabitants. We only get one shot! For those of you that have donated or given up your time to volunteer with the NCF, from the bottom of my heart, thank you ❤.
See you there.
P.S. Please leave your comments at the bottom of the post or contact me directly for more details. Please help to share this article using the buttons at the bottom of this post, this will help to raise awareness and much needed cash for the trackers! Xx