Socio- cultural importance of sacred forests conservation in south southern Nigeria
Sacred forests have been an important part of many African traditional societies for decades. This is an example of in-situ biodiversity conservation, which has supported various ecosystem functions. This study highlighted various approaches used by communities to enhance the socio- cultural importance of sacred forest conservation in south southern, Nigeria. Data were generated through sample survey using semi-structured questionnaires supplemented with other participatory research approaches such as focus group discussions, In-depth in view and among others. Majority of the respondents (60.30%) were above 40years while Christianity is the most accepted religion (64.90%). Among all the activities permitted within the sacred forests felling of trees were strictly prohibited. About 51.00% of the respondents have minimal interaction with the sacred forest while 48.20% had maximum interaction with sacred forest in accordance to their different cultural beliefs. Also, 59.90% never visited the sacred grove. Majority (79.70%) of the respondents disagreed with the intervention by government agencies on the preservation of sacred sites with reason being the fear of desecration, lack of tenure rules, indiscriminate exploitation and extraction of resources and loss of traditional cultural beliefs and conservation values. Indigenous traditional knowledge, beliefs and cultural systems was observed to enhance nature conservation in the study area and should be sustained by incorporating them into modern and national biodiversity conservation strategies in Nigeria. Thus, awareness campaign targeting relevant stakeholders and on the potentials of sacred forest in-situ conservation can go a long way in strengthening sacred forest sustainability.
Keywords: Sacred forest, conservation values, culture, beliefs, traditional interaction