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Forestry program helps protect Nigerian wetlands

By Lynn Davis

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 13 - November 16, 1995

Rockefeller Foundation funds and private sponsorship made it possible for Augustine U. Ezealor to study ways he can help his home country of Nigeria protect and restore its wetlands.

Ezealor has returned to his country to put to use his four years of graduate study at the College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources under Bob Giles, professor of fisheries and wildlife sciences.

"The wetland problem my country faces is that some rivers in the arid north, upon which the Sahara Desert is encroaching, were dammed," Ezealor said. "Consequently, downstream natural wetlands, agricultural crops, and bird habitats are being lost.

"Because European birds migrate to this area in the winter, the ill-effects of damming were compounded. So I have been looking at ways to mitigate the birds' lost natural habitat."

Making matters more challenging is Nigeria's "large human impact of 105 million people on land about one-and-a-half times the size of Texas. The human pressure is immense," Ezealor said.

If water from the dams can be released during the critical times of the year for the wetlands below to thrive, then the bird habitats could be restored and farmers won't lose their crops.

On his way back to Nigeria, Ezealor planned to stop briefly in the United Kingdom and work with organizations there to map out a strategy for identifying important bird habitats in Nigeria. This is part of a program aimed at achieving sustainable conservation of the country's ornithological and other natural resources.

Ezealor earned a B.S. degree in wildlife management at the University of Michigan, where he achieved class honors and received the Howard M. Wight Award of the School of Natural Resources. He came to Virginia Tech for his Ph.D. because of its strong program in natural resource management. Giles' textbook, Wildlife Management Techniques Manual, published by the American Wildlife Society, became his launching pad.

"It has been good working with such a great teacher," Ezealor, who is the author of numerous publications, said. His dissertation work focused on integrated vertebrate pest-damage management and ecological profile of a Nigerian Sahelian wetland.

His research indicated that the techniques of improving husbandry practices, restorative manipulation of the environment, using audile and visual scaring devices, and using limited amount of rodenticides could help reduce the agriculture-wildlife problems of the wetland area he studied. The strategy emphasizes shifting attention from controlling the pest species to cost-effective changing of the damage they cause.