As diverse as its people are, so is Nigeria’s geographical location. With a landmass spanning over 923,768 square kilometres (356,669 square miles) the country is wide and varied. Within it are tropical rain forests, highlands, islands and deserts, each one rich with diverse flora and fauna. Here are the national parks and nature reserves that have been carved out of Nigeria’s various regions, all of them a delight to the senses.
Straddling northern Oyo and Kwara is the Old Oyo National Park with a total land mass of 2,512 square kilometres (970 square miles). With this abundant landmass the park not only has a diverse range of wildlife, which includes elephants, buffalo and a wide variety of birds, it also has a rich cultural and historical background emanating from the Old Oyo Empire. Hotels near the park include Carlton Gate Hotel, Ibadan; Owu Crown Hotel, Ibadan; and SDM Tavern Hotel, Ibadan.
The Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve contains a stand of rare, dry montane land, and is home to a population of the endangered Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee. Other primates that can be found in the park are the putty-nosed monkey, the mona monkey, and tantalus monkey. It has been classified as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area by BirdLife International and is home to 158 bird species.
Located in Lagos, the Lekki Conservation Centre is an urban park – a jungle within a bustling city. The park boasts a 401-metre-long (1,300-foot) canopy walkway, which is said to be the longest canopy walkway in Africa. The entry and exit points of the walkway connect six towers from which visitors can have a full view of the wildlife in the park and the habitat types. The park is home to animals such as monkeys, crocodiles, snakes and different species of birds. The park is especially suitable for bird watching, with a tree house and bird hide erected within the park.
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This exquisite tropical forest hosts many species of migratory and resident birds. A three-kilometre (two-mile) lake and other ponds within the reserve are also home to several fish species (which attract the migratory birds). More than 200 butterfly species can also be found in the park, fluttering among a rich array of over 440 species of botanical plants, most of which are believed to hold medicinal qualities. The reserve is a great spot for tourists and biologists interested in wetlands wildlife. Other recreational activities visitors can enjoy include golfing and swimming, and the reserve also has safe playing areas for children.
Sankwala mountains Cross River State Nigeria | Christopher Scott / Alamy Stock Photo
Home to the critically-endangered Cross River gorilla and other animals such as chimpanzees, drills, baboons, leopards and forest elephants, the Cross River National Park is located in the south-eastern part of Nigeria. Tourists can access the two major sections of the park, Oban and Okwangwo, which are separated by 50 kilometres (30 miles) of disturbed forest. The Oban region is the only site where the red colobus monkey can be found in Nigeria. The park, which has been referred to as the ‘African Amazon’, has the densest rainforest in the country, with more than 350 bird species found in the park. It is also reputed to be the richest site in Africa for butterflies. Two waterfalls, Agbokim and Qua falls, form part of the park and are a must-see for nature lovers.
Male Lion on the plains of the Masi Mara | Gillian Lloyd / Alamy Stock Photo
Yankari National Park is the most diverse spot in Nigeria and is a delight to any wildlife enthusiast. It has the largest-surviving elephant population in the country (estimated at about 100–150 elephants) and it also supports the critically-endangered West African Lion, which is one of the four known populations that still exist. Other animal populations within the park include buffalo, hippopotamus, roan antelopes, western hartebeest and several monkey species. Visitors can also enjoy a dip in the warm springs, take expeditions into caves or visit the park museum that houses historical artefacts.
The Gashaka-Gumti National Park, named for the two villages in which the park is located, provides an exquisite experience for nature lovers as well as many other recreational activities. The park consists of the ‘bat forest’, which is so-called due to the large number of fruit bats that roost there at certain times of the year; the hippo pool, which is located upstream the River Kam and where tourists and researchers alike can see and study the hippos at close range. The park has many mountainous areas, one of which is covered by flora unique to Nigeria. Other activities for visitors include horse riding, and sport fishing in the park’s numerous rivers that are well stocked with fish, such as the Nile perch, the tiger fish and the electric fish.
Jos Wildlife Park is one of the largest manmade wildlife sanctuaries in Nigeria. Located at the hilly Rantya area in Jos, Plateau state, the park was established in 1972 and it extends into the pine forest and the Vongnifwel Hill. It is home to a variety of animals such as monkeys, elephants, lions and exotic birds. The park continually maintains its animal population and variety through exchange programs with other zoos. Visitors can also visit the museum, and engage in activities such as picnics while on the grounds of the park.
Kainji Lake National Park, located between the states of Niger and Kwara, was established in 1976 and has an inselberg landscape with wide plains in between. Some of the rivers within the park include Oli Menei, Doro and Manyara. Some of the animals to be found here are monkeys, lions, pythons, the Nile crocodile, leopards, and hyenas. The park also has a wide variety of birds that are a delight for ornithologists and bird watchers.