Established in 1956, the Yankari Game Reserve is home to various species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and hundreds of insects. In this interview with RALIAT AHMED – YUSUF, the sole administrator of the resort, Engr Habu Mamman described the hub of ecotourism as a goldmine deserving of investors’ interest,while commending Bauchi state government for its effort in making the resort a tourist’s delight.
How has the resort fared under your watch since you became the sole administrator over two years ago?
Managing anything of sort is not an easy task but thank God things are going the way we are expecting although we would have expected it to be much better than it is now but gradually we are on the right path, considering what we met when we came on board as an administration here. This place was in a terrible state but now I think things have changed and we are making progress.
At a point the reserve lost its glory but things seem to have picked up again. How did you achieve this?
It is just dedication. One thing I want to emphasise is that our present governor, H.E Muhammed Abubakar was once a secretary in this place so he has a passion for this place. Yankari is a goldmine and knowing full well that we need to be self sufficient we need to develop our tourism and mineral resources and other things. His Excellency has taken it upon himself to make sure that not just Yankari but others such as the wild life park are given full attention. For instance, as we speak we have an airstrip that has just been constructed. So with that and a helipad you can imagine what will happen when people start coming with their small planes – this place will become a small Dubai.
What are the challenges you have had in the course of managing the resort?
The challenges just like that of any other thing is funding which is usually the problem of most organisations. When you look at the funding generally in the country and states kudos should be given to the governor for allowing us to use what we generate to run the place because getting funds from government when you have competing sectors like education, health, agriculture and others will be very difficult. And you know generally people believe that when you take a medicine it should start working immediately but in this case it is not so because tourism is capital intensive and the gain is gradual and not immediate. So I think with that we can say some of the challenges have been overcome. In this resort, we have the reserve as well as the conservation where the animals are because without the animals nobody will come here and that makes poaching a very big challenge.
How are you addressing this?
To address poaching, the government has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Wildlife Conservation Society, WCS of New York in the United States who is managing the conservation for us by training our rangers and also giving us equipment with some counterpart funding. By and large we are overcoming most of the challenges.
How do you sustain the resort since you use what you generate to run the place with little or no funding from government?
We don’t get funding from the government for now so we use what we generate which is not enough. We are actually trying to reach a certain threshold where we can invite investors to come in and invest so that we don’t have to wait for funding from government to develop tourism. As we are all aware, the government has a lot of burden on its shoulders in terms of other sectors in need of funding in the state. But if we get people who can come and invest it would help a lot. We are already talking to people from South Africa, China and Malaysia and even Nigeria who have come to see the place and are interested in investing. What we are generating is just enough to keep us afloat to reach a point where investors can come in. For instance we can get a hotel to manage the restaurant and the accommodation which would make it easier for us.
What makes the Yankari game reserve tick?
I have been to some resorts outside the shores of Nigeria and most of the things they have are artificial but here in Yankari, apart from the administrative building every other thing here is natural -from the Wikki warm spring to other springs with different temperatures. There is one that is about 35 degrees centigrade which we are trying to develop. So whoever comes to Yankari is coming to see nature at work and not things created by human beings. I make bold to say that we can compete with any resort in the world, especially once investors start coming in.
On average, how many tourists do you get in a month?
Many. But you know tourism is seasonal. During the festive periods we have our peak. For instance, you saw some foreigners when you came in so it depends on when they have holidays. Although the insurgency in the Northeast has not touched us in Bauchi but the perception that the North east is not safe is also a big problem. For instance, last month we were supposed to have an event tagged: ‘Explore Bauchi’ that would have attracted both local and international guests but because of the crisis in Jos most embassies advised their people not to come to Jos and environs so we had to put off the event. Infact a lot of people paid money, especially from the south eastern part of the country and we had to return their money because they considered Jos as an environ of Bauchi and that was a minus. By and large the obstacles are there but we are focused and we will clear them and everything will be fine.
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