By Rhett Butler   |   Last updated July 12, 2014

While Nigeria is probably best known today for its oil deposits, the country is home to a rich diversity of forests and wildlife, including at least 899 species of birds, 274 mammals, 154 reptiles, 53 amphibians, and 4,715 species of higher plants. Nevertheless Nigeria's forests are some of the most threatened on the planet due to high population growth rates, conversion for subsistence and industrial agricultural, and logging.

As of late 2012, nearly half of Nigeria is forested (defined as land with more than 10 percent tree cover), but the country's rainforests are fast declining. According to the U.N., Nigeria lost nearly 80 percent of its old-growth forests between 1990 and 2005, giving the dubious distinction of having the highest deforestation rate of natural forest on the planet during that period.

Global Forest Watch map showing forest loss and gain in Nigeria between 2001-2012. Click image for an interactive map

Recent forest loss alerts. Click image to enlarge.

Most of Nigeria's rainforests are located in the Niger River Delta. The country's dense forests are concentrated in the stats of Bayelsa, Cross River, Edo, Ekiti, Ondo, Osun, Rivers, and Taraba. Together those eight states account for nearly 95 percent of Nigeria's land area that has more than 50 percent tree cover.

Forest cover by state in Nigeria

Total forest areaDense forest areaForest gainForest lossTotal land area
>10% tree cover (ha)% total land cover>50% tree cover (ha)% total land cover2001-2012 (ha)% total forest cover2001-2012 (ha)% total forest cover(ha)
Akwa Ibom65699398.4%175382.6%7430.1%111241.7%667419
Cross River204214097.5%88805142.4%49690.2%263511.3%2094534
Federal Capital Territory58469179.7%1780.0%140.0%143662.5%733613
Water body16478132.8%10.0%00.0%4920.3%502871

Recent data from Matt Hansen and Global Forest Watch suggest that deforestation is rising in Nigeria.

This trend seems to be confirmed by the increasing number of NASA-based forest loss alerts.

Oil in Nigeria

In the 1990s, Nigeria became notorious for conflict linked to oil development in the Niger River Delta. The conflict was capped by the 1995 execution of eight environmental activists, including Nobel Peace Prize nominee Ken Saro-Wiwa who led opposition to Shell Oil's activities in the Ogoni homeland.

Nigeria environmental news [XML]

Nigeria Forest Figures

Forest Cover
Total forest area: 11,089,000 ha
% of land area: 12.2%

Primary forest cover: 326,000 ha
% of land area: 0.4%
% total forest area: 2.9%

Deforestation Rates, 2000-2005
Annual change in forest cover: -409,600 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -3.3%
Change in defor. rate since '90s: 31.2%
Total forest loss since 1990: -6,145,000 ha
Total forest loss since 1990:-35.7%

Primary or "Old-growth" forests
Annual loss of primary forests: -82000 ha
Annual deforestation rate: -11.1%
Change in deforestation rate since '90s: 111.4%
Primary forest loss since 1990: -410,000 ha
Primary forest loss since 1990:-79.0%

Forest Classification
Public: 100%
Private: 0%
Other: 0%
Production: 27.6%
Protection: 0%
Conservation: 49.6%
Social services: 0%
Multiple purpose: 0%
None or unknown: 22.7

Forest Area Breakdown
Total area: 11,089,000 ha
Primary: 326,000 ha
Modified natural: 10,414,000 ha
Semi-natural: n/a
Production plantation: 349,000 ha
Production plantation: n/a

Plantations, 2005: 349,000 ha
% of total forest cover: 3.1%
Annual change rate (00-05): 6,600,000 ha

Carbon storage
Above-ground biomass: 2,261 M t
Below-ground biomass: 543 M t

Area annually affected by
Fire: n/a
Insects: n/a
Diseases: n/a

Number of tree species in IUCN red list
Number of native tree species: 560
Critically endangered: 16
Endangered: 18
Vulnerable: 138

Wood removal 2005
Industrial roundwood: 13,916,000 m3 o.b.
Wood fuel: 72,711,000 m3 o.b.

Value of forest products, 2005
Industrial roundwood: $1,527,288,000
Wood fuel: $475,429,000
Non-wood forest products (NWFPs): n/a
Total Value: $2,002,718,000

More forest statistics for Nigeria

Private sector innovations reduce food loss in West Africa

(06/01/2015) Why is Africa's second largest tomato producer also the world's biggest importer of tomato paste? The question is a preoccupation for Lamido Sanusi, the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. For Sanusi and other experts, the problem is a lack of processing capacity, which leads to enormous waste and a giant food import bill.

Ghosts of problems past and present loom over Nigerian palm oil plans

(05/28/2015) Palm oil giant Wilmar has set up shop in Nigeria in a big way, with plans to operate over 30,000 hectares in the country's Cross River State. Some say the project is little more than a land grab, has caused environmental damage and seen people turned off their land and lose their livelihoods in areas such as Ibiae and Biase.

Elephant poaching rate unchanged – and still devastating

(03/25/2015) New figures show essentially no change in the number of elephants killed in Africa by poachers last year, despite a high-profile meeting on the crisis which was attended by 46 countries and a number of commitments. Data from CITES' Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) estimated that around 20,000 elephants were killed in 2014, the same as in 2013.

World's rarest gorilla gets a new protected home

(10/28/2014) The Cross River Gorilla, the rarest and most threatened of gorilla subspecies, has reason to cheer. Last month, on September 29, the Prime Minister of Cameroon, Philemon Yang, signed a decree to officially create a new protected area – Tofala Wildlife Sanctuary – in the southwestern part of the country.

Scientists use genes, feces to study disappearing monkeys

(09/24/2014) Human pressures through tree clearing and poaching are reducing both forest and fauna in West Africa. In response to dwindling primate populations, scientists used genetics techniques to examine their makeup and outlook – demonstrating the usefulness of such methods in the study of animals that are becoming ever-fewer in number and ever-harder to find.

Don't eat or touch bat bushmeat amid worsening Ebola outbreak, UN warns

(07/29/2014) The world's worst Ebola outbreak was likely begun by a hunter shooting a fruit bat for their dinner or the market, according to the UN. The outbreak has killed over 660 people in six months to date, and recently spread via plane to Nigeria. The disease is particularly deadly with a mortality rate of around 90 percent.

Invasion of the oil palm: western Africa's native son returns, threatening great apes

(07/28/2014) As palm oil producers increasingly look to Africa’s tropical forests as suitable candidates for their next plantations, primate scientists are sounding the alarm about the destruction of ape habitat that can go hand in hand with oil palm expansion. A recent study sought to take those warnings a step further by quantifying the overlap in suitable oil palm land with current ape habitat.

Surrounded by deforestation, critically endangered gorillas hang on by a thread

(07/17/2014) The mountain forests at the Nigeria-Cameroon border are home to one of the rarest and most threatened subspecies of African apes – the Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli). Today, fewer than 300 individuals survive in the wild. These occur in 14 small, fragmented populations spread over a 12,000-square kilometer (4,633-square mile) landscape, characterized by rugged, hilly terrain and a matrix of farmlands, villages, and forests.

New report: illegal logging keeps militias and terrorist groups in business

(06/30/2014) Released last week by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) during the first United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, a new report found that together with other other illicit activities such as poaching, illegal deforestation is one of the top money-makers for criminal groups like Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab.

Deutsche Bank dumps controversial palm oil company

(05/27/2014) Deutsche Bank has sold its stake in Bumitama, an Indonesian palm company that has been embroiled in controversy over alleged destruction of rainforests and peatlands in Borneo, reports Friends of the Earth Europe.

Camera trap catches rare feline attempting to tackle armored prey (VIDEO)

(05/19/2014) One of the world's least known wild cats may have taken on more than it could handle in a recent video released by the Gashaka Biodiversity Project from Nigeria's biggest national park, Gashaka Gumti.

NASA detects surge in deforestation in Malaysia, Bolivia during first quarter of 2014

(04/21/2014) Forest disturbance in Malaysia, Bolivia, Panama, and Ecuador surged during the first quarter of 2014, according to NASA data.

Lions face extinction in West Africa: less than 250 survive

(01/08/2014) The lions of West Africa, which may represent a distinct subspecies, are on the precipice of extinction. A sober new study in PLOS ONE reports that less than 250 mature lions survive in the region. Scientists have long known that West Africa's lions were in trouble, but no one expected the situation to be as dire as it was. In fact, in 2012 scientists estimated the population at over 500. But looking at 21 parks, scientists were shocked to find lions persisted in just four with only one population containing more than 50 individuals.

Richest countries spent $74 billion on fossil fuel subsidies in 2011, eclipsing climate finance by seven times

(11/13/2013) In 2011, the top 11 richest carbon emitters spent an estimated $74 billion on fossil fuel subsidies, or seven times the amount spent on fast-track climate financing to developing nations, according to a recent report by the Overseas Development Institute. Worldwide, nations spent over half a trillion dollars on fossil fuel subsidies in 2011 according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Forgotten species: the nearly extinct primate that can be shot on sight

(09/27/2013) The attention paid to charismatic popular primates—such as gorillas, chimps, orangutans, lion tamarins, and even some lemurs—could make one suppose that conservationists have the protection of our closest relatives well in hand; the astounding fact that no primate species is known to have gone extinct in the last hundred years (despite large-scale destruction of their habitats) seems to confirm this statement. However, looking more closely at the data, one finds that not only are many of the world's primates slipping toward extinction, but a number of them have received little conservation attention. According to the IUCN Red List, a staggering 48 percent of the world's primates are threatened with extinction: that's a worse percentage than amphibians which have been ravaged by a global epidemic. And although a handful of the world's 600-plus primates have garnered conservation adoration, many remain obscure.

Illegal marijuana cultivation threatens Nigeria’s forests and chimps

(07/26/2013) The world’s highest deforestation rate, the execution of eight environmental activists including a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and ongoing turmoil surrounding oil operations in the Niger River Delta has created a notoriously disreputable environmental record for the West African country. Now, a new threat is rising in the already-compromised forests of Nigeria: illegal marijuana cultivation.

Fertility in Africa could push world population over 11 billion

(06/13/2013) The global population could grow by another 4 billion people by the end of the century if fertility rates in Africa don't decline, according to a new report by the United Nations. Currently around 1.1 billion people live on the continent, but that number could skyrocket to 4.2 billion (a 380 percent increase) by 2100, causing global population to hit 11 billion.

Top security official in Nigeria blames climate change for worsening insecurity

(04/25/2013) Climate change is in part to blame for rising conflict and crime in Nigeria, according to the president's National Security Advisor, Colonel Sambo Dasuki. Speaking to the House Committee on Climate Change, Dasuki said that the rise of Boko Haram insurgents, a jihadist group in northern Nigeria, and worsening crime was linked to climate change reports All Africa.

Suggested reading - Books

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