When Passion is Contagious – Getting to know Felix Olusola Abayomi, a 2018 Paradise Ranger

When Passion is Contagious – Getting to know Felix Olusola Abayomi, a 2018 Paradise Ranger
June 13, 2018 11:45 am Blog

Meet Felix Olusola Abayomi, wildlife conservation specialist based in Nigeria, founder of the Wildlife of Africa initiative, one of six West African winners of the 2018 Paradise Ranger Award, and one of the most passionate and committed wildlife conservationists you would meet today. My first introduction to Felix, a former fish manager from Nigeria, was when I read about him in our internal updates, following his recent completion of a Master’s degree program in Management and Conservation of Species in Trade in Andalucía (Spain) funded by the WA BiCC program. I got to know then that he was also a volunteer work with the Barbados Sea Turtle project.

I had the chance to meet Felix in person in March 2018, when he visited Ghana to attend the first-ever National Sea Turtle Conference and was inspired to share his inspirational conservation story and dig deeper into the sources of his own inspiration.  After the Master’s Degree and volunteering, Felix decided to return to his region and settled in a community about 15 kilometers from his former home on the Nigerian coast.  There, in poor villages dependent on fishing, he discovered a complex relationship between his community and sea turtles that involved fishermen, poor youth, and access to health services.

He told me how sea turtles often end up as by-catch when fishermen in this village cast their nets into the sea. When this happens, the animals damage the nets which cost time and money to fix. The fishermen, in need of money to repair the nets, sell the sea turtles to other community members who consume the meat and extract oil from the shell.

The dwindling fish stocks off the coast have also limited the economic opportunities for youth, many of whom have turned to poaching, or hunting sea turtles for small-term gain.

Finally, Felix told me of one visit that he made to a village area when he stumbled upon a woman cooking something strange. Moving closer, he discovered that it was the shell of a leatherback sea turtle. Curious, as he’d never seen or heard of such a practice, he asked the woman what she could possibly be using the cooked shell for. The woman explained that it was a common practice in the village to cook the shell to extract oil, which is then used to treat coughs in children. This was disappointing, yet unsurprising, given that most of these people were unable to afford basic healthcare.

In all three of these cases – and Felix had many more stories to tell – Felix recognized that this was a bigger problem than initially assumed, but also emphasized that the chain of events is driven by poverty. Rather than discouraging Felix, these challenges inspired him to work with community members to find a solution to this problem. To remedy the situation, he and his team from the NGO he had created, Wildlife Africa, offered to pay the medical bills of all children under five and has registered them at a hospital which will take care of their ailments, from cough to malaria if they agreed not to use the turtle shell medicine. This team continues to work with community members to explore other livelihood options such as farming, to increase their sources of income. Felix and his team of volunteers are also addressing the other end of the problem by helping fishermen out with their broken nets.

Funding for these activities remains a formidable challenge, the issue of funding, however, has never demotivated him or diminished his unrelenting spirit.

Felix’s work with sea turtles and communities in Nigeria is just one story out of many Felix had to share with me. He has also worked to protect elephants, and vultures in Nigeria.  He spreads his passion through trainings which he provides to local NGOs, people from the Lagos State Government, officials of the Ministry of Environment, local communities, and Nigerian Army officers. He has a sense of responsibility to raise the next generation of wildlife conservationist as well, so you will often find Felix taking school children on exciting field trips and training programs.

While Felix finds purpose in his work in Nigeria, he sees value in scaling up his efforts beyond the borders of the country and working with people in similar fields to exchange ideas and work effectively. He has local, regional and international partnerships with organizations like Aktionsgemeinschaft Artenschutz (AGA) in Germany; Waterkeeper Alliance, Global March for Elephants and Wildlife Conservation Film Festival (WCFF), all in the USA; RASTOMA sea turtle conservation initiative and other sea turtle conservation actors in West and Central Africa; and Vulture Conservation Project (VULPRO) in South Africa.

During his visit to Ghana, Felix shared his extensive work on sea turtle conservation with other sea turtle conservationists at the event, and went a step further to share his efforts to establish a regional sea turtle conservation network across West Africa because he believed that isolated efforts in conserving migratory species including sea turtles were ineffective. Felix and key conservationists at the event are currently working to make this dream of a regional network a reality.

Thanks to his relentless efforts, Felix Abayomi was recently awarded the Paradise Ranger Award, a $3,000 award grant presented annually to a maximum of 50 African wildlife rangers and conservationists. Felix was nominated for this award by the Waterkeeper Alliance. Waterkeeper Alliance, as the name suggests, is a group of over 300 organizations working towards keeping waterbodies clean, safe and usable for several communities across the world. It is the fastest growing grassroots environmental movement in the world, spanning six continents.

You know you are making a big difference when an environmental movement of such magnitude recognizes your efforts. Seeing this news on Facebook, I was proud, yet unsurprised. He clearly deserved it. When you ask about his passion, he tells you he’s always had the entrepreneurial spirit in him, dating back to his childhood. He is very excited that he is getting the chance to channel this energy into something great for the environment. He claims he wouldn’t have imagined himself this deeply rooted in wildlife conservation if he hadn’t gone through the Master’s degree training in Management and Conservation of Species in Trade at the University of Andalucía, a program that was fully sponsored by the USAID-funded WA BiCC program. The training inspired Felix to start the Wildlife of Africa Initiative, and other projects.

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