An animal shelter in Nigeria seems a bit of a stretch, but not for Mark Ofua.
For Nigerians, animals rank very low on the scale of empathy. We are raised from very early to see animals purely as a food, and occasionally as entertainment or even companionship, but never as beings with rights. This is why there are routine videos of coastal dwellers hacking whales, dolphins, seals and turtles to death for food, even though these animals are already endangered and are protected by international law.
It is why we kill snakes, and cats and owls and dogs because we believe they are physical manifestations of witchcraft or familiars for evil. We buy exotic snakes as pets and then dump them into the bush when we can no longer care for them, not realizing that the populations of these animals in their natural habitats are controlled by other predators and by introducing them to habitats without natural checks and balances, they devastate those habitats by breeding indiscriminately and preying on other animals and eventually posing a danger to our environments and eventually to us.
Our gross indifference to animals is what has led Dr. Mark Ofua, a veternarian at the St. Marks Animal Hospital to start a shelter to house these animals and offer them a better life. Ofua’s animal sanctuary, located at Nwankwo Ibusa Drive, Addo Road, Ajah, is home to a number of pythons and snakes, birds of all kinds and endangered animals indigenous to Nigeria, like civets, pangolins and genets. Ofua has operated his shelter for the last five years, with volunteers providing an important part of the care needed to ensure these animals have a quality of life that they wouldn’t be afforded elsewhere.
Mark Ofua and the work that he does is an important reminder that there is a real cost to the urbanization of Lagos, and by extension, Nigeria. We are destroying our natural habitats, driving away the animals indigenous to these regions and accelerating violent interactions between animals and humans while heightening the effects of climate change. Just in 2018, it was discovered that wild elephants continue to live, in hiding in a sliver of forest in Lagos state animals that are endangered as we continue to build our megacities.
Let us all be more aware of the ecological cost of our lifestyles, and support people like Mark Ofua, who are working to make a difference in the lives of the animals displaced by us.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.