Dr. Ottoson is an Ecologist and freelance researcher with roots in southern Sweden, but now based in Luxemburg. His greatest interest for the past 30 years has been migratory birds. Although completing his PhD on parent-offspring conflict and begging behaviour, his main research focus has been on behaviour, especially orientation, and the non-breeding ecology of migratory birds in Sweden, Nigeria and Ghana as well as on five expeditions to the Arctic. For three months each year he teaches and conducts research with APLORI, (The A. P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute, situated in Jos, Nigeria).
His current research activities in Nigeria involve research with Masters and PhD students on Ecology of migrants and African resident birds, the population biology of lions, elephant surveys, systematics of butterflies, bush-meat hunting, sperm competition, conservation management and so on. A few ex-APLORI students who he is now co-supervising as PhD students are enrolled on PhD programs in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, UK and of course Nigeria.
At home in Luxembourg he works as a consultant doing Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) especially for birds before the siting of wind turbines.
To find out more about APLORI's work in Nigeria, visit their website here: www.aplori.org
Where is Yankari situated and how easy is it to get to as a tourist?
Yankari is situated in Bauchi state, NE Nigeria. It is not too easy to go there as a tourist, the closest airports are Jos and Kano which are about 3 hours drive away. From the Nigerian Capital Abuja its about 6-7 hours drive. For the moment this area of Nigeria is a bit troublesome and European foreign ministries tell people to avoid making unnecessary trips to the area.
What facilities are available to those wishing to visit?
There are some relatively newly built Rondavels and apartments. Food is available. A very nice Natural Spring to cool down in afternoons.
Based on your own background with Yankari and so little information available for people wishing to visit, what are your recommendations for visiting the reserve? For instance: can one stay inside the reserve for extended periods of time? Are you allowed to self drive or must you work with an operator / agent based at Yankari? Are foreign guides permitted to work there?
Please compile a checklist of the most important things to know for those planning to visit.
1. Its hard to contact management in order to make reservations. But most often rooms are available, so you basically have to go there taking a chance. You can stay there for a longer period yes.
2. You are allowed to drive yourself but you need to carry a ranger with you and that costs extra.
3. You can use foreign guides but will always need a local guide as well.
4. Since Yanakri is big and forested and animals are not plentiful and spread out, you need a lot of time here to make it worth a trip.
Prof Ulf-Lecturing on then shore of River Yuli
What percentage of visitors to Yankari are foreign and what percentage domestic?
Today hardly any foreign visitors at all visit Yankari, due to the travel restrictions. Expats living Nigeria who used to come here before are not allowed to travel here. Before maybe a handful of real tourists came each year. So most visitors are Nigerians coming on a day trip and on school trips maybe spending one night.
How are Nigerian nationals encouraged to visit the country’s national parks and reserves?
Actually no idea because I never see anything of that. My guess is very little.
Why is there not more publicity about Yankari in the international press and likewise why has it not got much of a presence online? Why is more not being done to disseminate information about the reserve?
Ask the Bauchi State Government who manage the Reserve.
What plans does the Nigerian government have to attract both foreign tourists and foreign investors to help kick start the country’s safari tourism market? Indeed, what needs to happen in Yankari itself to make it more attractive to safari tourists?
Yankari is now not a National Park, (although it was),its run by the Bauchi State and was handed over from National Parks about 6 years ago. I'm not aware of what either the Federal Government or Bauchi State is doing to promote tourism. They may try to - I never see anything about that.
A past press release stated the government are to rehabilitate Yankari National Park: QUOTE “The federal government has announced plans to rehabilitate the Yankari game reserve in Bauchi state. It said the move is geared towards restoring the past glory of the reserve.” When did this rehabilitation project begin, what do the plans consist of and what evidence have you seen of it making a difference to the reserve? How important an issue is it for them?
Well, I guess this was during the former government, during the last 5-6 years nothing much has happened when it comes to rehabilitation: a bridge here and there have been mended. Most things are neglected and have been so for a long time.
How do Nigerian’s themselves, (as in the people and not government), view wildlife conservation?
Mostly no interest at all, they don't know what it is, for most people is not a reality. Of course there is some awareness around protected areas. But for most Nigerians wildlife is something you eat.
What are the local domestic Wildlife conservation NGOs and how are they involved with Yankari?
Nigerian Conservation Foundation worked in Yankari in the past and may be on their way in again. WCSworks in Yankari with helping the rangers and monitoring their movements. They also try to prevent the cattle rearing Fulanis from entering the park too much. They also conduct surveys and monitoring of especially the elephants, which they also work with mitigation of elephant vs farmer conflicts. A.P. Leventis Ornithological Res Inst. Have been active in the Reserve for the last 5 years and we have done extensive research on birds, mammals, butterflies and plants in the reserve. The next step for us is now to build up a monitoring scheme.
What are the current threats to wildlife inside the reserve and what steps are being taken to combat them?
Poaching and the cattle rearing Fulanis are the two threats. There is patrolling in the park but it's not sufficient to more than maybe keep it down a bit.
In August this year, 2012, a ranger was murdered and another injured by poachers, (Source - http://news.naij.com/7189.html) What is the security situation like at Yankari, both for those involved in wildlife conservation there, and potential visitors? What should they be aware of?
Rangers have been killed or injured almost yearly I would say, the rangers lack arms and are easy targets for the poachers. It's not a security risk for the casual visitor because you will not come in close encounter with a poacher. The biggest security problem is political and outside the park
In your paper entitled Yankari Game Reserve, Bauchi State - Progress Report 2011 (A copy of which can be downloaded here), you state, QUOTE: “Eight species of large mammals have become locally extinct since the area was first designated as a game reserve; these are the African Hunting Dog (Lycaon pictus), Leopard (Panthera pardus), Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), Western Kob (Kobus kob), Korrigum (Damaliscus l.korrigum), Red Fronted Gazelle (Gazella rufifrons) and Bohor Reedbuck (Redunca redunca) (c.f. Green & Amance 1987; Thacher 2006).” What species, in your opinion, will be the next to become extinct in Yankari without immediate action and why?
The lion, because the fulanis are grazing far into the park which means that their cattle are being predated by lions, the fulanis then poison the carcass and the lions,hyenas and vulture etc are killed. Actually, all vultures have gone from Yankari now.
From your experience and field work in the reserve, what are the positive indications regarding wildlife, compared to the quite obvious declines in certain species?
Buffaloes seems to increase, elephants are relatively stable and up until we started the lions seemed to be more than like 20-30 years ago, the last with a quite big question marks seems there was no good estimates from before. But the last 2-3 yrs the lions have decreased.
How easy it is to see wildlife in Yankari? What are the best parts of the reserve for specific wildlife sightings?
Most animals are concentrated along the the River Gaiji in the center of the reserve, it's here you see the animals, especially during the dry season and during the day.
What is Yankari’s bird life like and what are the outstanding/rare species you are likely to see, if a keen birder? Are there any endemic solely to Yankari, if so, what are they and in which part of the reserve can they be spotted?
Yankari is big with many different habitats which makes the variety of birds the asset. For Nigeria its one of the few places you can still see Ground Hornbill and Secretary bird and a few remaining bustards, you also see a good variety of raptors including Fox Kestrel, Martial Eagle and Bateleaur. In the dry season the river attracts some water birds.
Am I right in thinking that there is no human habitation within Yankari Game Reserve? What impact do surrounding communities and villages have upon the reserve? Has there been any effort to directly involve these communities in the running and organization of the reserve, whether it be through employment as guides, camp workers, anti poaching patrols etc? If not, why not?
There is no habitation within Yankari. Most poachers are from there of course but not all. The main impacts on the reserve apart from the poaching is from Fulanis who are nomads and pass through the area mainly in the dry season. There have been a lot of community projects over the years and some are still on. Most rangers are from the nearby communities which of course has its pros and cons.
How important is foreign aid and assistance for the reserve: indeed, what kind of assistance is Yankari receiving from foreign organisations?
Now it's quite important because I think WCS is working to keep the patrolling running at some level, without them I don't think there would be any.
What are the foreign conservation NGOs currently involved with Yankari, how are they involved, and how can people reading this interview help them, whether it be financially or logistically?
WCS as above, I guess through giving money to them or contact Andrew Dunn
What is your view of Yankari’s future: 5, 10 and 15 years from now?
If nothing drastic is done now now, the park will slowly detoriate and in 15 years there will be nothing left, instead Fulanis and farmers will have taken over
Photos of Ulf, courtesy and copyright Talatu Tende, lion and elephant images, courtesy and copyright Oskar Brattström.
The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.