ENTER THE WILD
Meet a Nigerian Professor who Got an Animal Named After Him (Zebra Gecko-Hemidactylus eniangii)
Journey with us into the adventurous world of wildlife through the eyes of an erudite professor. Meet Professor Eniang Edem, an internationally renowned herpetologist who has traversed extreme conditions to the remotest places on earth, capturing animals in their natural habitats. His quests have earned him global acclaim from world-leading herpetology and primatology organizations, foremost of which is the global naming of a species of Zebra Gecko (Hemidactylus eniangii) after him. He is also the founder of the Biodiversity Preservation Centre, an intriguing mini zoo in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. The Fulcrum team met with the professor in an exclusive interview to learn more about his adventures in the wild and the rocky road to success in uncharted territory.
How did you get interested in reptiles and amphibians?
During my PhD program which I completed in 2004, I majored in the study of snakes as convinced by Professor Ibukun Ayodele of the department of Wildlife and Ecotourism Management, University of Ibadan, and Professor Luca Luiselli – University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt, thus making me the first comprehensive Ecology and Conservation Scientist on snakes, in southern Nigeria. At that point, I discovered that southern Nigeria had 63 species of snakes while Northern Nigeria had 46 species of snakes. Meaning that although the north had more snake population than the south, the south had more snake species than the north. With the advancement in modern technology, I believe we can discover more species of snakes.
You say you talk to animals and trees, how?
“When you understand the ecology and biology of the species of animals you are dealing with, you can easily understand its ethology (innate behavior) to relate with them. Animals can perceive your adrenal secretion and different types of reactions either of fear or excitement including antagonistic and appeasement behavior.
Can you share with us some of your research work and achievements?
As a leading environmental management Consultant, a Herpetologist and wildlife expert in Nigeria, with over 25 years of consistent wildlife management practice, I would say I have had quite a run in my career. However, 2010 was a turning point. I was honored by the international scientists working at the University of California Berkeley, the USA with the global naming of a newly discovered Zebra Gecko- discovered by me in Nigeria (Hemidactylus eniangii). This was a great milestone for me, as you may have guessed that gecko was named after my last name- Eniang, being the first person to have made the rare discovery.
Motivated to do more, I have over the last two years discovered two Eel species, one amphibian and six forest Gecko species, two colubrid snakes all yet to be classified by science.
What snake species captivate you most?
The Jameson Green Mamba. It is calm, beautiful but venomous. It will easily kill its victim without the victim feeling any pain. It is never aggressive and will avoid humans by all means except it is cornered.
Any close calls?
When the former Honourable Minister of State for Environment, the present Emir of Nasarawa, Alhaji Ibrahim Jibril handed over three boxes containing 146 venomous snakes, in ten species group for me to keep in trust for the government of Nigeria, and I had just a small Serpentarium that could carter for only four species, I had a hard time housing all those snakes together with all the members of my family. It was a grave risk I took for my country, which is as close a call as I have had.
What is your favorite herp?
The desert-spurred Tortoise otherwise called Centrochelys Sulcata is easily my favorite. It is only comparable to the Galapagos Islands giant Tortoises. I love them because they are among the longest-living vertebrates on the planet and only outlived by the Stump headed Shark,
Tell us more about your Biodiversity preservation center?
I started this project in 1996 in Calabar, and only had to relocate the project back home to Akwa Ibom State in 2010. The objective was to create more awareness for animal life in Nigeria, as many of what we know as wildlife, were being threatened with extinction.
It will interest you to know that the last Elephant in Akwa Ibom was killed in 1978 in Eket- according to my friend, Prof. Richard King, a lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt. Elephants today are not resident here in Akwa Ibom, they migrate into Eastern Obolo from Andoni seasonally and then return.
Back to the center, you can say that the center exists for the following reasons:
- To protect and promote our animal species, for posterity.
- To accommodate rescued animals until a safe abode has been identified for them. Until then, they remain at the center for protection and of course, to educate the public.
- The center is a place where people can walk in and be enlightened on how to conserve endemic, endangered and critically endangered wildlife species.
What Animals do you currently harbor at the Centre?
Animals in the center are generally rescued. At the moment, we have over 54 tortoises in four different species groups, three African civets from infancy, a crocodile, four mongooses and two monkeys, two different parrot species, python as well as the Gaboon viper.
You mentioned Education earlier, tell us more.
This facility has come to be appreciated for its role as a research center. It has played host to students from several schools including Rivers State University of Science and Technology and the University of Uyo, international students from Canada and the United States of America for their PhD program. Later in the year, the facility will play host to another PhD student from Barcelona, Spain.
What major problem is our Eco-tourism industry faced with?
We have a major issue with the promotion of our iconic wildlife species. For example, while Ethiopia, Italy, Tanzania, Uganda and Seychelles promote and celebrate their endemic species, Nigeria does not. Therefore, for ecotourism to thrive in Nigeria, the Government needs to create a congenial environment to promote and market our diverse animal species.
Can you share with us some Ecotourism potentials in Akwa Ibom State?
Itu local government Area welcomes 14 different types of European migrant birds annually for the winter season, a good opportunity to promote bird-watching.
Oron, Ibeno and Mkpat Enin – also play host to different types of birds from around the world during the winter season in the western world, including European Barn swallow (Hirundo Rustica ) and the Lapwings.
The Ibeno LGA Crab Republic is hitherto unexplored, a place where crabs are in abundance.
The Professor of diversity is open to further discussions on biodiversity especially as a viable platform to promote eco-tourism.
For more information on the wildlife and biodiversity of Nigeria by Professor Edem Eniang, please visit: https://biodiversitypreservationcenter.org/