We start our three-day journey on an early Saturday morning of February 4, 2012. The weather is dry but sultry, and the sky laden with harmattan haze. From Lagos, we drive northeast. The roads are good and curve past the fishing village of Epe. As we enter the dangerous Benin City motorway, we stop the cars near a market. Hawkers rush to the car window to sell boiled Guinea Fowl eggs and fresh peppery snails. Yum, protein! Two more hours of driving and we leave the motorway to a winding road, which soon turns into a narrow dirt path into the bush entering the forest reserves shared by Ogun, Osun and Ondo States in Southwest Nigeria. Here, evidence of deforestation is clear— overloaded lorries with lumber, felled trees along the roads, and a constant buzz of diesel-powered saws in the distance.
Erin (meaning elephant in Yoruba) Camp is where, yes…we camp. We are responsible for our own food and drinks. Rain water has collected for showering (much appreciated by all) that is operated by a pulley to hoist a bucket with drip nozzle overhead. Night falls swiftly close to the equator and by 7 pm, it is dark. Our guide builds a generous fire and we are able to boil water for tea and for packets of dehydrated noodle. Ahead of us, we have a full twelve hours of oppressive darkness and try to sleep before dawn floods the sky. In our daylight hours, we trek through dense bush, ford streams, and come upon squatters and poachers.
The struggling population eke out a living by cutting sticks into staffs sold to Fulani cattle drivers in Northern Nigeria, by lumbering, by poaching game, and by clearing land for farming. The heroic efforts of the conservation team and forest rangers trying to educate communities, to save the forest and to protect the wildlife is laudable though man and nature are constantly and tragically at odds. Do humans always have priority? I recall Paul Gilding lecture, ‘The Earth is Full’ and consider my own footprints.