The Old Oyo National Park is definitely one of the Nigeria’s premium National Parks with its rich eco-tourism potential that is worth rediscovering and promoting. The relevance of this park as well as that of other National parks in the country serve as eco-treasures of the nation.
According to the World Conservation Union (IUCN), National Park is a relatively large area of land or sea where one or several ecosystems are materially unaltered/minimally altered by human exploitation or occupation, where the plant and animal species, morphologic sites and habitats are of scientific, educational, and recreational interests. In this case the highest competent legal authority of the country is in control and visitors are allowed to enter under special conditions for inspirational, educational, cultural and recreational purpose.
Eco-tourism is growing rapidly and is becoming an important income earner for many developing countries like Kenya, Rwanda, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nepal and others.
The Old Oyo National Park is one of the seven national Parks in Nigeria initially created by Act No. 36 of 1991 which was later repealed and replaced with Act No. 46 of 1999.
The Park takes its name from Oyo-Ile (Old Oyo) the ancient political capital of Oyo Empire of the Yoruba people, and contains the ruins of this city. Oyo-ile was destroyed in the late 18th century by Ilorin and Hausa/Fulani warriors at the culmination of the rebellion of Afonja, Commander of Oyo Empire’s provincial army for which he allied himself with Hausa/Fulani Muslims Jihadist.
The idea to protect the fauna and flora resources of the former Western region and particularly the present area was muted back as far back as 1917. This was realized in 1938 through the Forestry Ordinance and laws signed on the 6th December,1936 by Oba Oladigbolu I, the then Alaafin of Oyo and was duly approved by Mr. W.E. Hunt, the then Chief Commissioner for the Southern Provinces.
The Park is located in Oyo State, South-west Nigeria with an area of 2,512 square Kilometre, shaped like ‘Saxophone’ . It is 300 Km from Lagos, 60 Km from Ibadan, 160 Km from Ilorin, 600 Km from Abuja, 600 Km from Kaduna and 910 Km from Kano. Most of the Park area is covered by plains lowland, undulating from 300m to 500 m above sea level. Few hills, notable Yemoso and Gbogun, Kosomonu, however rise several meters above their general surrounding. The southern part is drained by the Owu, Owe and Ogun Rivers, while the northern sector is drained by the Tessi River.
Annual rainfall in the Park ranges is between 900 mm and 1,500 mm, and main annual temperature is between 12 degrees C and 37 degrees C. The rainy season begins in April through September with the highest rainfall record between July and August.Temperature is highest in the dry season with the mean daily maximal, which is greatest during February and March with values of about 33.6 degrees C with the lowest values of about 20 degrees C during the height of harmattan in December and January.
Old Oyo National Park was established to preserve the culture, historical and archaeological features in the abandoned sites of the then capital city of the ancient Oyo Empire at Oyo-ile, Bara and Koso, to protect, preserve, conserve and manage representative samples of indigenous flora and fauna of the south west geographical region of Nigeria, to encourage general interest and education among the public in the knowledge of wild fauna and flora and to gain their support for conservation, the conservation of selected and representative examples of wildlife communities in Nigeria, for the protection of endangered species of wild plants and animals and their habitats and to encourage the public to visit the National Park in order to enjoy and appreciate the aesthetic, spiritual and ecological values of nature in the maintenance of a healthy environment among others.
The Park offers a wide variety resources such as vast tracts of unspoiled nature, unique wildlife both fauna and flora and solid mineral deposits. Other attractions include: The ethno-historical attractions and traditional ways of life (culture) of the Yoruba race, illustrated in their type of food (Amala, gbegiri, ewedu and moimoi), hairstyle (Irun Didi), dress code (Soro&Buba) and authentic unsophisticated but friendly attitude of Oyo people which are worth trying for a memorable visit.
It is rich in fauna resource with significant species of which are the Buffon’s kob, kobuskob, Roan Antelope Hippotragus equines, Western hartebeest, Alcelaphusbuselaphus, Bush buck, Tragelaphusscriptus, baboon, Papio Anubis, Patas monkey, Erythrocebuspatas, Oribiourebiaourebi, Grimm’s duiker Sylvicappragrimmia, lion Pantheraleo, Warthog Phacochoerusaethiopicus, Water buck Kobusdefasa, Red Flanked Duiker Cephalophusrufilatus, Black and white Colobus monkey Colobusvellerous Green monkey Cercopithecusathieops and many more.
The Park has unique and spectacular features of abundant water resources that drain most part of the park through-out the year like the Ibuya pool and the Ikere Gorge dam.
There is a great diversity of fish species in the major rivers and the pools/lakes. The physical environment of these rivers and pools provide viable recreational activities for tourists such as sport fishing, haggling, boat cruising, Bird sighting and water polo, picnicking etc.
Old Oyo National Park contain solid mineral deposit such as Tantalite, Columbite, Granite, Marble stone and many more both at Sepeteri and Oyo-ile axis of the Park. In addition, it should be noted that Igbeti town is acknowledged for Marble stone deposit as Obajanna in Kogi State is well-known for Cement deposit.
The uniqueness of the Old Oyo National Park is a fascinating pocket of archaeological, cultural and historical sites dotted with in and around the Park. Old Oyo National Park is most unique of all the National Park in the country because it is the only one with dual prospect of both archaeological as well as cultural/historical Park.
The North Eastern Part of the park used to be the Capital of Oyo Empire between the 17th and 18th Centuries (Akinjogbin, 1966). Recent archeological works at Oyo-ile range of the Park identified more than twenty historical/archaeological sites as products of 17th and 18th century’s ways of live of the Yoruba race like the Oyo-iledefence wall, Inner defence wall one, Inner defence wall two, Inner defence wall three, Agbaku Rock Shelter, Pythons Cave, Mejiro Rock Shelter, Blacksmithing Centre, Mejiro Cave, Mejiro industrial site, Reservoir, Town hall, Esu shrine, Idi Ara Cave among others.
According to Ibrahim M. Goni, the conservator of Old Oyo National Park, the diverse wildlife species, the host of bird life and the Southern Guinea Savannah Vegetation of the park, coupled with its natural water resources, scenic rock formations and relics of the ancient Oyo Empire of the 17th and 18th centuries, combined to make Old Oyo National Park a unique ecological and cultural/historical Park.
“These tremendous ethno-historical and natural resources which are a source of national pride have great potentials to engender patriotism as well as promote national unity. The resources can also make local and foreign tourism a positively rewarding enterprise for the nation and for individuals. In order to achieve these desired goals, there should be a greater effort at awareness-building. Furthermore, the security of these resources and the tourists themselves must be accorded more importance and determined commitment by the Government and the people of Nigeria”, Goni said.