Nigeria has variable climatic conditions and physical characteristics, which have combined to create some of the richest floral and faunal biodiversity in Africa. Nigeria is home to over 864 species of birds, 117 amphibians, 203 reptiles, over 775 species of fish, 285 mammals, over 4,715 vascular plants, and likely many more undocumented species, according to the recent National Strategy for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime in Nigeria (2022-2026) .
The country's natural ecosystems range from semi-arid savannah to montane forests, rich seasonal floodplain environments to rainforests, and vast freshwater swamp forests to diverse coastal vegetation . The main vegetation patterns extend in broad east-west belts, parallel to the Equator. Mangroves and freshwater swamps occur along the coast and in the Niger Delta. The mangrove swamp ecological region in Nigeria extends to other countries including Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, and Angola. The Niger Delta area in Nigeria is the third largest mangrove forest in the world and the largest in Africa, encompassing 1 million hectares out of the 3.2 million hectares of mangrove forest in Africa . Thus, the Niger Delta mangrove forest is a global biodiversity hotspot. In addition, in Nigeria, there are 11 Ramsar sites, with a total coverage of 1,076,728 hectares. Three of these sites are found in the Niger Delta namely - Apoi Creek Forest in Bayelsa State, Upper Orashi Forests in Rivers State, and Lake Oguta in Imo State along the Niger River floodplain .
Biodiversity plays a vital role in the livelihoods and survival of many Nigerians. It provides diverse ecosystem services, including climate regulation, provision of food and medicine, raw materials, and aesthetic values , . Nigeria’s rural population is highly dependent on the country's varied forms of biodiversity endowment. For example, about 70% of Nigerian households, mostly in rural and semi-urban areas, rely heavily on firewood consumption for their domestic and to a large extent commercial energy needs. In addition, tourism is one of Nigeria's fastest growing industries and is reliant on wildlife, nature reserves, resorts, and an abundant water supply for recreation .
However, biodiversity is undervalued in Nigeria and the country’s biological resources are continually threatened by increasing rates of ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss . According to the IUCN Red list 2013, Nigeria has a total of 309 threatened species . The Niger Delta Red Colobus, Cross River Gorilla, Gambles' Relic, Gamble’s Flatwing and Perret's Toad are among the critically endangered species in Nigeria according to the updated IUCN Red List (2019) .
As a global biodiversity hotspot, Nigeria is one of the highest priorities for biodiversity conservation in the world.
The direct and indirect pressures on biodiversity are numerous and mainly of an anthropogenic nature. Habitat change, overexploitation, pollution, invasive alien species, climate change, and trafficking in wildlife and forest products are major drivers of biodiversity loss in Nigeria . Mentioned threats are driven by rapid population growth and urbanization, poverty and lack of alternative livelihoods, corruption, inadequate management capacity, insufficient data collection and transparency, conflict and insecurity, lack of environmental and biodiversity awareness, and international demands for natural resource products .
Over the past decade, Nigeria has emerged as one of the major International Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWIT) source, destination, and transit countries for illegal wildlife trade globally. It is a major player in the supply chains of rosewood, elephant ivory and pangolin scales, which have been identified as the three biggest wildlife crime commodities in the world .
Drivers of wildlife crime in Nigeria vary widely. These include Nigeria's porous borders, corruption, limited political will, enforcement difficulties, regional instability, growing economic development, weak governance and institutions, population growth and associated pressures and poverty .
Key policies and governance approach
Nigeria is a signatory to several international treaties and conventions related to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity (such as CBD, Ramsar, CMS, CITES), which demonstrates the country’s commitment to the conservation of natural resources.
At the national level, Nigeria’s revised National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) (2016-2020) is an important instrument for identifying, documenting, and addressing the threats to biodiversity in order to prevent its loss. The strategy reflects the country's long-term vision of a "Nigeria with a healthy living environment where people live in harmony with nature and sustain the gains and benefits of biodiversity, mainstreaming biodiversity into the national agenda to reduce poverty and develop a secure future in accordance with the principle of ecological sustainability and social equity”. The focus of this vision is the consideration of genetic materials as strategic yet fragile resources to be conserved, used sustainably and perhaps most importantly deployed as natural capital for the socio-economic development of Nigeria. The NBSAP includes 5 goals, 14 SMART National Targets with 21 Impact Indicators and 67 Actions with 123 Performance Indicators and 20 Programmes .
Additionally, in 2022, Nigeria launched its first ever National Strategy to Combat Wildlife and Forest Crime in Nigeria 2022-2026, which is a key document setting the country on the right path towards attaining its vision of a Nigeria free from wildlife crime . The strategy is an important tool in Nigeria's efforts to combat wildlife and forest crime, in a holistic way based on evidence and in line with international best practices. Enhanced training and research capacity building are cornerstones of this strategy, aimed at upskilling prosecutors and the judiciary on national wildlife crime laws, fueling national research on flora and key wildlife in wildlife crime strategies, and law enforcement operations in Nigeria .
The Nigerian authorities are also making concerted efforts to curb the illegal timber trade by renewing their efforts to enforce the ban on timber trade, which was reaffirmed in July 2020 . Several other biodiversity-related national legislations and policies exist, including among others, the National Parks Decree (1999), Endangered Species (Control of International Traffic) Act (1985) and the amended National Environment Policy .
Successes and remaining challenges
The Federal Government of Nigeria has taken the necessary steps to protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of the country’s biodiversity. These efforts translate into the country's commitment to biodiversity-related international conventions and treaties, as well as the formulation of policies and laws. However, as outlined in the Nigerian National Wildlife and Forest Crime Strategy, implementation is hampered by poor law enforcement, which is a major setback for biodiversity conservation in Nigeria. For example, all international trade in African elephant ivory is currently prohibited by CITES. Despite the total ban, ivory seizures linked to Nigeria totaled 12,211 kg during the period 2015-2017. More recently, a seizure in January 2021 at the port of Apapa contained 2,772 pieces of elephant tusks, weighing 4,752 kg. In addition, national parks that harbor much of Nigeria's biodiversity are still facing serious threats from poaching .
Additional challenges to biodiversity conservation in Nigeria include weak institutional cohesion, the weak capacity of States to manage varied biodiversity-related portfolios, the lack of commitment and investments in the departments in charge of biodiversity issues, and the low awareness of biodiversity amongst the public .
Further, high biodiversity loss is largely under-reported due to the poor state of taxonomic specialists in Nigeria. Currently, there are also no natural history museums in the country. Of particular concern, are the mangroves of the Niger Delta, which are critical ecosystems and are becoming increasingly under threat due to overexploitation, oil pollution, scavenging and plastic pollution, among others. According to local experts, Nigeria urgently needs to develop a sustainable national plan for the conservation of its mangroves .
Initiatives and Development Plans
The Nigerian government is supporting various projects and initiatives to protect its biodiversity. Included is the project to establish a new sanctuary for the Cross River Gorilla, which is being implemented by the Nigerian Association and Conservation of the Mbe Mountains (CAMM) in collaboration with the Rainforest Trust, and aims to conserve the 21,004 acres of the Mbe Mountains. The Mbe Mountains are located in the rainforests of Cross River State in southeastern Nigeria. They are globally recognized as a biodiversity hotspot with high levels of species richness and endemism and contain an estimated population of 30 critically endangered lowland gorillas, which are among the most threatened great apes in Africa .
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food for Progress programme, in cooperation with Lutheran World Relief, has announced a new project, which is worth approximately $22 million and will be implemented in Nigeria over the next five years. The project aims to strengthen the cocoa value chain in Nigeria by increasing cocoa productivity and leveraging climate-smart agricultural measures. This project will also employ an approach that enables farmers to preserve the land’s fertility and biodiversity, whilst producing more cocoa .
Additionally, the Tropical Research and Conservation Center (TRCC) is implementing a project for the restoration and sustainable management of the Niger Delta Mangrove, a hotspot of global biodiversity, located on the Atlantic coast of southern Nigeria. The project aims to replant approximately 100,000 mangrove trees and is currently being piloted in Akwa Ibom State. If successfully implemented, it will be expanded across the region and will target plantation of an additional 1 million mangrove trees .
Despite Nigeria's conservation efforts to combat biodiversity loss, the country's biological diversity remains under pressure. Nigeria needs investment in the biodiversity sector and to ensure that the value of biodiversity is reflected in broader national policies. Nigeria's opportunities for the biodiversity sector lie in the country's development goals to:
- Diversify the economy beyond subsistence agriculture and its dependence on the exploitation of natural resources.
- Capacity building of institutions for the planning and implementation of biodiversity and ecosystem management.
- Challenges associated with the country's insufficient capacity to carry out law enforcement interventions also represents an area of opportunity for greater action.
- Investment on priority programs for expansion of the network of national parks and reserves as well as compilation of flora and fauna of Nigeria.
- Promotion of sustainable land use (forestry, agriculture and aquaculture).
- Continued support for ecotourism and awareness raising efforts to maintain high ecological and social guarantees of tourism.
 Numbere, A. O. (2019), 'Mangrove Habitat Loss and the Need for the Establishment of Conservation and Protected Areas in the Niger Delta, Nigeria', in C. M. Musarella, A. C. Ortiz, R. Q. Canas (eds.), Habitats of the World - Biodiversity and Threats, IntechOpen, London. 10.5772/intechopen.89623.
 IUCN Niger Delta Panel, (2018). Developing a biodiversity conservation strategy for the Niger Delta: Integrating biodiversity considerations into SPDC’s operation. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN, 2018. viii+36pp
 Akindele, E.O., Ekwemuka, M.C., Apeverga, P. et al. Assessing awareness on biodiversity conservation among Nigerians: the Aichi Biodiversity Target 1. Biodivers Conserv 30, 1947–1970 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-021-02175-x
 Lohbeck, M., Bongers, F., Martinez-Ramos, M. and Poorter, L. (2016), The importance of biodiversity and dominance for multiple ecosystem functions in a human-modified tropical landscape. Ecology, 97: 2772-2779. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.1499
 MONGABAY (2022). List of Critically Endangered species in Nigeria. [Online]. Available: https://rainforests.mongabay.com/biodiversity/en/nigeria/CR.html.
 Süleyman Orhun Altıparmak, “An Analysis of Nigeria’s Biodiversity Governance: Policies, Institutions, and Challenges,” Üsküdar University Journal of Social Sciences, issue: 14, (May 2022): 41-67 DOI : http://doi.org/10.32739/uskudarsbd.8.14.101
 Nigerian Tribune (2022). High Loss Of Biodiversity Grossly Under-Reported In Nigeria — Expert. [Online]. Available: https://tribuneonlineng.com/high-loss-of-biodiversity-grossly-under-reported-in-nigeria-expert/.
 Rainforest Trust (2022). Creating a New Sanctuary for the Cross River Gorilla. [Online]. Available: https://www.rainforesttrust.org/urgent-projects/creating-a-new-sanctuary-for-the-cross-river-gorilla/.
 This Day (2022). US Announces $22 Million Project to Improve Cocoa Value Chain in Nigeria. [Online]. Available: https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2022/09/24/us-announces-22-million-project-to-improve-cocoa-value-chain-in-nigeria/.
 One Planet Network (2020). Niger Delta Mangrove Project. [Online]. Available: https://www.oneplanetnetwork.org/knowledge-centre/projects/niger-delta-mangrove-project.