Three men in black pin-striped suits delayed my departure from Jos, claiming to be from the ‘State Security Service’ . ID was shown at my request and in hindsight I think they were genuine. At first you can never be sure in Nigeria, particularly when those concerned have just stepped out of a bakery. They laughed and agreed I was right to be suspicious.

‘Are you aware of the situation in Jos?’ was the question put to me. I’d just spent five nights cocooned in the secure and peaceful compound of a missionary-run Guest House. Jos and its ethnic/religious tensions seemed a World away, but it’s an issue that simmers close to the surface here, and one unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

Heading east to Yankari

Quiet road to Bauchi

Pause for a paw paw

The situation partly explains the decline in visitor numbers to Yankari National Park. The traffic had eased and almost ceased as Hiromu and I moved east and descended from plateau state to arrive at the park gates. It was relative bliss by Nigerian standards. Then came the news that cycling into the National Park was forbidden. Most people would regard this as a sensible guideline. Hiromu and I were gutted. West Africa’s oldest National Park might have elephants and possibly the odd lion roaming about, but the chances of encountering one on the 40km road leading into the main camp are probably rare. The Park manager confirmed this when we unloaded the bicycles from a taxi at the main camp, having been driven at a speed that rendered any potential wildlife viewing impossible.

During the dry season most of the large animals congregate at the Gaji River, so unless we were willing to pay $40 to chart a vehicle, which doesn’t guarantee one will see anything, our wildlife viewing would be restricted to whatever came into the main camp. The answer to which was a lot of baboons and warthogs. The latter are harmless, although I wouldn’t choose to pat one, and mostly concerned with grazing on grass and searching for a muddy patch to wallow in. Baboons on the other hand are a damn right nuisance. Leave anything unattended outside your tent and the chances are it will be snatched and torn apart with the expectation of its contents providing a quick and easy feed. Half a dozen eggs and a litre of honey disappeared in this manner sometime around dawn. It is at this time that the baboons are most active. Once my camping bag containing unused flysheet had been snatched a mere few inches from my head I decided that one night camping in the park was enough. I gave chase with a stick, thankfully retrieving the bag and contents before they’d been torn to shreds.

Hiromu and I were the only visitors inside the park, which the baboons appeared to be doing a better job of managing, or rather mis-managing, than the staff. Wildlife conservation is not something most Nigerians place a high concern over. Only four years ago a number of new buildings were constructed at the main camp, but they are already showing signs of neglect. The half-finished quarters of one of the ‘conference suites’ has a swimming pool, around which a family of baboons have taken up residence. You can guess the appearance of the water now. The problem with the park appears to be one of good sustainable management. Judging by the scale of new development it’s clear that plenty of money has been invested, but that has now ceased. The Manager printed off and handed me a 10-page document charting the history of the park. It makes for a sad read. Much of Yankari’s large game has fallen victim to poaching over the last several decades – a situation true of many National Parks on the continent, particularly in West Africa.

The highlight of a visit to Yankari National park are the warm springs, a crystal clear channel of turquoise water flowing from beneath an escarpment of rock. Apart from an ugly man-made concrete platform it feels as close to an image of paradise in the jungle as one could imagine.

Despite cycling being forbidden in the park we went ahead and pedalled back out the following day. Was there any wildlife to be seen on the way? No. Do I partially regret cycling? Yes. Shortly after I recorded this video a number of Tsetse flies started to give chase and feast on my legs.

Cycling Yankari National Park: Nigeria from Peter Gostelow on Vimeo.