By Jimoh Babatunde
In between the building surrounding the striking multi-purpose Rotunda , a peacock iridescent blue and green plumage feathers exposing the beauty of the bird welcome us as we move into the Lekki Conservation Centre tucked inside the bustling sprawl of Lagos away from the maddening crowd and noise the city is noted for.
The Lekki Conservation Centre, LCC, covering a land area of 78 hectare, is a conservation initiative to protect wildlife found in south west coastal environment of Nigeria in the face of sprawling urban development.
The conservation education centre has continued to attract both local and international interests, serving as an education and resource centre to varieties of groups, majority of which are schools and tourists.
Under the scorching sun, Lucky George, Precious Ogbebor and I set out for the game viewing knowing fully well that prime time for viewing flora or fauna at LCC, is especially in the morning when it’s coolest and the humidity is not as oppressive, plus when the animals are most active.
Not deter by the heat, we move into the conservation area after we were bailed from paying the mandatory N500 gate fee by LCC's media man , Kunle Olawoyin.
|The trail leading to the forest|
Moving into the nature reserve through the trail board-walk which was constructed in 1992 to enrich tourists/visitors view of the vast resources of the nature reserve, we could see very far through the trees.
|Lucky on the newly constructed canopy|
This is so at this time of the year, March, when the rain has not fully commence, the bottom of the huge palms that reach into the sky has become dried unlike in the raining season that they are covered with lush green leaves .
The nature reserve traverses a mosaic of vegetation types, namely: secondary forest, swamp forest and Savannah grassland.
We have hardly moved some few meters on the 2km stretch trail that Ogbebor sighted Mona monkeys with babies — swinging through the tops of the trees , she reaches out to her Ipad for a quick photo snap.
“Here Mona monkeys are common sights, you will see more as we walk round” the Media head of the conservation centre said as he takes us on historical lane as to when the conservation was establish and what it is meant to serve.
HOW IT STARTED
|Koi fish at the new pond|
|Kunle, Lucky, Precious and Jimoh|
Olawoyin said the establishment of LCC was born out of Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF)’s relentless commitment to conservation of Nigeria’s vast natural resources. “This commitment was heightened by the presence of its National Secretariat in Lagos, thus warranting the need to have a conservation project site within Lagos metropolis that will serve as biodiversity conservation icon and environment education centre.
He added “This laudable concept could have come at no better time going by the daily degradation of the city’s remaining natural environment fragments due to ceaseless urbanisation; thus, making LCC one of the few natural environment relics within the city.”
Lucky interjects, apart from the Mona monkeys are there other animals here? Olawoyin says there are Monitor lizards, huge turtles, bush bucks, Maxwell duikers and giant rats. He adds that one of the turtles died seven months ago at almost 100 years.
Before he finished, Ogbebor asked if there are snakes around? With laughter one of the guards that accompanied us said there are Pythons but they are nocturnal animals, “even if you see any now, it is as good as useless.” Olawoyin added that to spot the animals will take patience .
Because of her size, Precious Ogbebor was already panting for breath before we get to one of the five rest stops
A wooden platform overlooking the swamp habitat provides seats to be still, listen and look for fish, birds or the occasional crocodile. Rest stops are conveniently situated about every 250 meters or about every sixth of a mile.
From the rest spot, we sight the newly constructed longest canopy walkway in the continent of Africa just constructed by the Lagos state government. “This is in partnership with Lagos state government on Eco-tourism here.” Olawoyin said.
The Canopy walk is funded by the Lagos State Government through the state Ministry of Tourism and Intergovernmental Relations, the walk way will soon be commissioned and opened to the tourists.
As we move to take a walk on the canopy, Olawoyin voice came up again saying this “ Canopy is 401 meters and the peak is 22.5 meters and everything is within the forest. We used Aluminium and not wood like you have in Calabar.”
Before he finishes, we are already climbing with the forest guard, but Kunle, Precious and I withdraw either for fear of height or fatigue. Lucky continues with the canopy walk while we make our way to the tree house through the trail.
The tree house is one of the most fascinating features one can ever come across in an ecotourism zone. The tree house, stylishly seated on a stout dawadawa tree (Pakia biglobossa) rises above 25m. A well protected ladder is ruggedly mounted behind the tree to enable nature enthusiasts reach to tree house to savour the panoramic view of the tree canopy.
Though we could not climb the tress house as it is under renovation, we had another rest at the foot of the tree.
With voices of Lucky and the guard re-echoing from the canopy, we move to join them as they descend . We soon reconnect to savour the forest outlook from the bird hide which enables avid bird watchers snipe at unaware avifauna that are wading through the pool overlooked by the hide or foraging within the vicinity.
Olawoyin explains that bird lovers can observe or photograph herons or egrets wading or foraging in a marsh just outside the dark from the bird hide.
“Some of the 118 recorded resident, migratory and some rare birds calling LCC home include the white-throated bee-eater, black-crowned crane, African jacana, Senegal Coucal, African harrier-hawk, Swamp Palm Bulbul and Viellot’s Weaver.”
Asked the feeling taking a walk on the canopy, Lucky enthused, “cool experience, wonderful as you can see the entire forest up there . I will want to do it again if I have the opportunity.”
The picnic area is a recreation island in the middle of a forest. It has a semi-enclosed block structure containing the indoor picnic facilities and conveniences. The outdoor has outdoor game facilities mostly for children.
Some few meter walk take you to the newly constructed Eco-Park facilities at the Lekki Conservation Centre such as fish ponds, jungle gym, outdoor games, and Gazebos among others.
Pointing to some coloured fish in the pond, I ask what they are called. “ They are called Koi fish from Japan.” Olawoyin replied
“This fish is most famous by its beautiful colors that have been created via selective breeding. There are over 20 different varieties of koi fish that differ in color, patterns and type of scales.”
The open area of the park will definitely be a pull for young tourists and those young at heart with the addition of the large floor ludo and chess games.
Olawoyin nodding said over two million tourists of more than 100 nationals have visited LCC since inception.
“Most of NCF’s School Conservation Clubs were established following the impact of students/teachers’ visit to the Centre. It will suffice to say that LCC has achieved, and it is still achieving the goal of educating the public both young and old on the need to conserve natural resources.
“The various tiers of government are not left out from paradigm shift from infallible conservation lessons learnt from visiting the Centre.”