Biodiversity Conservation, Tourism and Development in Okomu National Park, Edo State, Nigeria
The increased rate of species extinction as a result of expanding human population, resource exploitation and land use threatens biological diversity. Biodiversity by definition refers to the life forms on earth. This includes the millions of plants, animals and micro-organisms, the genes they contain and the intricate ecosystems they help to build into the living environment. About 1.4 million species have been identified but biologists now believe that the total number could be up to 80 million. This implies that numerous species may never be identified before they go extinct. Biodiversity Conservation methods such as the creation of National Parks help to minimize the rate of extinction. The Okomu National Park in Edo state plays this crucial role and also serves as a very important tourist attraction while catering the needs of tourists and locals ranging from farmers to herb gatherers, park rangers and regrettably even loggers and hunters amongst others. Observations during a study tour in 2013 indicated that the sustainability of the park is significantly threatened and this has been further demonstrated by its low patronage by tourists the number of which was 26 in April 2012. The survival of many species in Okomu National Park as is the case with other conservation areas depends on effective management and collaboration amongst all stakeholders. Highly critical in this regard is awareness and acceptance by the local community. This paper examines various sustainable development issues and contexts around the development of the park, spanning the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial era.
Keywords: Biodiversity, Tourism, Eco-tourism, Sustainable Development, National Parks