In May 2003, a member of Naijatreks, a Nigerian tourism exploratory team, found a community of terrapin turtle species located on one of the numerous granite hills in Akure, capital city of Ondo State, Southwest Nigeria. Akure is surrounded by impressive granitic rock outcrops and the turtles were found subsisting in a rock pools, known as gnammas, which are large holes in rocks that collects rain water. This unique kind of environment can be considered a harsh and unusual habitat for aquatic animals like turtles. These particular turtle species are termed terrapin; they are semi aquatic living in fresh or brackish waters.
At the initial discovery, the Naijatreks team was excited about their findings and made efforts to inform the public about the awesome ecotourism potential of the turtle habitat. Some months later within the same area, the team discovered another gnamma, which was larger in size filled with bigger turtles than the first pool. So for the next eight years after discovery, the team observed and monitored the behavioral adaptations of these turtles and published a number of articles in both local and national dailies.
In 2008, Naijatreks visited the first and smaller of the terrapin turtle pools and was astonished to observe a nearly dried-up pool. The water level had dropped from the previous year of 60 cm average depth to 35cm. Although, there had been a gradual drop in the observed averages over the years, this observation essentially underscores the harshness of the habitat. By the middle of dry season in 2009, the water in the pool had completely dried up and the turtles were no where to be found then and in the years that followed. The whereabouts of the turtles remains unknown till date. It is possible that the turtles migrated to a nearby bigger rock pool with water levels deep enough to last through the harsh dry season. It is also possible that the turtles could have been taken by locals who visit the hilltop to pray. However, throughout the years of our study, the second and bigger rock pool still had water and turtles.
Efforts were made to reach out to partner with the Nigeria Conservation Foundation on the turtle project, but without success. In 2013, the Ondo State commissioner for tourism at that time, Deji Falae stumbled on one of Naijatreks’ blog posts on the turtles and he picked up interest in the project. Unfortunately, he passed away few weeks after and ever since then, Naijatreks has not been unable to continue the turtle project due to inadequate resources.
This is another avenue to inform the Akure community, Ondo State government and Nigeria’s scientific community about this wonderful endangered ecotourism resource. Hopefully, someday, better progress can be made towards the rescue and conservation of the turtles and their habitat.