The extinction of human experience with nature directly correlates to the urban invasion of green spaces and the extinction of natural species. The Head of IITA Forest Center, Adewale Awoyemi, explored the interactions of humans with nature in the Afrotropics as part of his PhD.
People have acclimatized to watching television, playing video games, and surfing the internet for leisure rather than hiking, camping, birdwatching, insect catching, and fishing for recreation. The extinction of experience resulting from the loss of opportunities to experience nature poses challenges for people’s physical and mental health. People’s alienation from nature also contributes to public health and environmental degradation.
The authors explored the gap in research data, covering the angle of human and nature connectedness, especially in the Global South. They analyzed data from 600 respondents in four southern Nigeria cities—Auchi, Calabar, Ibadan, and Lagos. Their main goal was to evaluate the level of disconnection between urban population and nature. Respondents, ranging from 14 to 72 years old, reported their frequency of contact with urban greenspaces, parks, and identified nature markers, such as flowers, birds, trees, beaches, mountains, and more. The authors also assessed the potential factors responsible for losing contact with nature, including income and time investment.
Awoyemi and his three Spanish collaborators combined ecology, sociology, economics, and remote sensing for their research in the newly published transdisciplinary paper. Their results showed a high level of extinction of nature experience in Nigeria. Striking results from this study, the first of its kind in Africa, showed a higher extinction of experience than previous studies from the Global North. The lack of time, money, and few nearby natural areas were respondents’ main reasons for infrequent interactions with nature. The authors also found that neighborhood safety is a promoter of nature connectedness.
The study also revealed contrasting observations between cities, with respondents living in Lagos having less contact with nature than Ibadan respondents. Understandably, Lagos, being an economic hub, has had more natural spaces eroded to accommodate urbanization. This study is imperative as many cities in the Global South, particularly Africa, are experiencing rapid biodiversity loss due to urbanization in matching competition with the Global North. Thus, the study contributes important data to human-nature interactions from the Global South perspective.
The study also showed the importance of birds in this context. Citizens living in areas with more bird species were more connected with nature. Birds are important indicators of environmental safety and an important animal group that promotes social relations and interconnectedness between people and nature. “Promoting birds in cities will not only provide substantial benefits to the environment but also the citizens,” says Awoyemi.
The authors recommend tailored interventions to favor direct and intentional contact with nature to address location and class-specific factors contributing to the extinction of nature experience in Nigeria. “Education is key to preventing this important problem associated with urbanization as we found that more educated people have a higher contact with nature,” says Prof. Ibáñez-Álamo from the University of Granada (Spain) and co-author of the study. They also proposed environmental education through nature organizations such as the Ibadan Bird Club and the A.P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute to improve the value of human-nature experience and bridge the gap in knowledge of biodiversity and its attendant consequences in Nigeria and potentially other African regions.
Link to paper:
Photo 1: Overview of the urban city of Ibadan, Nigeria.
Photo 2: Bar chart showing respondents’ reasons for not visiting nature.
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