Despite the fact that oil spills in America have been the focus on many newscasts lately due to the spill in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, there’s currently an oil spill that’s been going on for nearly 40 years now–and you probably have never even heard word of it.
In the Niger Delta of Nigeria, where 90% of Nigeria’s government revenues are of crude oil, Shell has accounted for 1.6 million gallons of oil being spilled between 1982 and 1992 in 27 incidents (Akpan 2010). At peak conditions during the 1970’s, Nigeria was producing roughly 2 million barrels of oil a day (Ibeanu 2000). An official survey performed by the Shell Petroleum Development Company in 2004 officially stated 6,187 incidents in which 3 million barrels of oil were spilled between 1976 and 2001. While this is less than the current Gulf oil spill, it is still horrific to know that this is something that has been going on for fourty years now and still continuing.
As a result of this, there are some significant implications for the environment. The delta’s ecosystem can be broken down into four categories: coastal barrier islands, freshwater swamps, rainforests, and swamp forests (mangrove). It serves as a biodiversity hotspot with the [potentially largest] mangrove forest and a haven for fauna and flora alike (Ibeanu 2000). With so many water ways in this area, the oil spilling into the ecosystem has had notable effects on the environment as it has a method of spreading quickly via water source.
Certainly, with the Gulf oil spill, there’s been a lot of concern for the sea turtles, seagulls and other birds, and other wildlife, but what about the Niger Delta’s wildlife? In mind, I’m particularly thinking of the Niger Delta red colobus monkey, which is listed according to the IUCN as “critically endangered.” While the Niger Delta red colobus isn’t the only primate in the Niger Delta (a full list and including other mammals in the Niger Delta can be found here), it is one that is in need of serious conservation efforts to preserve populations and avoid extinction.
The Niger Delta red colobus monkey (Procolobus epieni) is typically found in the “marsh forest” category of the Niger Delta, which, as Oates and Werre (2008) describe, “… an area that has a high water table, but which does not suffer deep flooding or tidal effects. The study suggested that the more clumped distribution of food species in the marsh forest was a key factor restricting the monkey to its limited range.” Because of these findings, I would guess that the Niger Delta red colobus was a specialist–thus, a further challenge in keeping the primate population stable as there is more competition between group members for food resources due to the fact these monkeys have such a specialized diet that it restrains them to a certain area.
But how does this monkey correlate to the oil spills? Sure, it’s in the same area and maybe the food is contaminated. Close, but not quite.
As Oates and Werre (2008) go on to discuss, the Niger Delta red colobus is in an area nearby human populations of individuals who are called “Ijaw.” The Ijaw are typically a fishing tribe, but “outside influences introduced by the oil industry have encouraged commercial bushmeat hunting and logging throughout the Niger Delta.”
I would not be able to consider myself an anthropologist if I also didn’t consider the effect on human primates as well. With the oil seeping into what would be for many of the Niger Delta’s constituents’ drinking water, this also has the added detriment of affecting the food resources as well. Ibeanu (2000) notes in his report that because fish retain mercury in their brains for extended periods of time, individuals would be unable to feed on the natural resource–removing a potential food source for the Nigerians.
Moreover, the oil spills lead to fires which have been recorded to destroy farmland, wildlife, forests, aquifers and human lives (Ibeanu 2000). As a result, many Nigerians are displeased with the oil–some going as far as sabotaging the old and rusted oil pipes which, unfortunately, causes more oil to be spilled and further damage to be done.
So what does this lead to? As Ibeanu quotes from a Nigerian, “oil, blood and fire.” And until conservation efforts become formalized, you can expect a lot more oil, blood and fire–from both non-human and human primates alike until something is done.
Akpan, N.S. (2010). Governance and communal conflicts in a post-democratic Nigeria: A case of the oil-producing Niger Delta Region. Journal of African Studies and Development, 2(3), 65-74.
Ibeanu, O. (2000). Oiling the Friction: Environmental Conflict in the Niger Delta, Nigeria. Environmental Change and Security Project Report, 6, 19-32.
Oates, J.F. & Werre, J.L. (2008). Niger Delta Red Colobus Monkey.
Shell Petroleum Development Company. (2004). Annual Report.