Things You Didn’t Know about the SAMBISA GAME RESERVE


I wish to make it clear that this research was conducted before the insurgency; I am deeply indebted to Bukar Bulama Bita. I brought the subject again because before the defeat of the Jihadists by Nigerian Army, Camp Zero, the operation Headquarters (HQ) of the Jihadists, known as Boko Haram was in the dreaded Sambisa forest and at that time they control 23 out of 27 Local Governments in Borno State and some Local Governmenst in both Yobe and Adamawa States.

It will also go into the Annals of Borno, Nigeria and African History that it is during the rain of President Muhammadu Buhari that Camp Zero, the operational HQ of Boko Haram in Sambisa forest fell to superior fighting powers of Nigerian Army and Air Force under the command of Lt Gen. Tukur Buratai (Chief of Army Staff) and Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar (Chief of Air Staff), supported by Operation Lafiya Dole Theatre Commanders Major. Gen. Lucky Irabor, Major. Gen. Attahiru and Major. Gen. Nicolas Rochas, so let us know more about this dreaded sambisa forest.

The establishment and management of Protected Area is one of the important ways of ensuring that the world’s natural resources are conserved so that they can better meet the socio-economic needs of mankind now and in the future.

In Nigeria, the first game reserve (Yankari) was established in 1956, but the practice of setting aside sacred areas as religious sanctuaries or exclusive hunting reserves is much older and the tradition has been continued in many widely different cultures to the present day. The control and management of Protected Areas such as Forest Reserves, Game Reserves, Game Sanctuaries are direct responsibilities of the state government until recently.

In Borno State, the first game reserve (Sambisa) was established in the early 1970s since then the state has dedicated much effort in the protection of her wildlife and wildlife conservation area. Laws have been enacted, boundaries of Protected Areas demarcated and the antipoaching unit motivated and equipped. All those activities have always aimed at eliminating man particularly the local community and their activities from wildlife conservation area.


Sambisa Game Reserve is situated in the Southern part of Borno State, it covers about 518km2 (Bukar, 2001). Sambisa lies between latitude 11o 15o – 11o 30o North and longitude 13o 22o – 13o 37o East. (Fig. 1)

Greater part of the Reserve lies in Gwoza local government area while some part of it falls within Bama local government area. The reserve is bounded by Konduga local government to the North, Gwoza to the South and West and Bama local government to the East.

Physical Component of the Sambisa:


Sambisa Game Reserve area experiences distinct wet and dry seasons with the southern part receiving slightly higher rainfall. The wet season last from May to October while the dry season which is usually longer last from November to April (Bukar, 2001). Sambisa Game Reserve has a mean annual rainfall of about 595mm. The temperature is high during the day time and cool during nights. The hottest months are April and May with mean temperatures of about 420c and 41.4oc respectively.


There are 4 principal streams in the Reserve area. These streams are fed by River Yedzaram that passes adjacent to the reserve. The River Yedzaram together with River Ngadda have diffused flow in the extensive swamps and depressions of the Sambisa Reserve area. The main Lake (Kwada) which is a tributary of the River Yedzaram retain water throughout the year while some of the streams retain water only for some time and completely dry out in the dry season. They all provide shallow ground water for the flood plains (Fadama) which are important sources of grasses for grazing animals especially in the dry season.

Topography and Soil:

Sambisa Game Reserve area is generally flat except around the streams. The soil in the reserve is a holomorphic type. It is commonly clay in the riverine area while the rest of the reserve are cracking clay or black cotton soil with high salinity. Carol and Klinkenberg (1972), Mamza (1990), Bukar (2001).

Biological Component of Sambisa Flora Resources:

Sambisa Game Reserve lies largely in the Sudan Savannah zone characterized by few trees and seasonal drought with the northern portion in the Northern Guinea zone. Typically the vegetation in the reserve area is uniform all over except that it is thicker in the riverine area. Typically plant species found in the reserve include Acacia spp mixed with colonies of Balanitesaegyptica and Ziziphus spp. Other common tree found in the reserve include AnogeissusLeocarpus, Combretum glutinosum, Prosepis Africana among others. The trees on the stream sides are usually large with open canopy. They form dense woodland, they include Diospyros Mespilliformis, Vitex doniana, Khaya Senegalensis. These usually grade into open woodland dominated by grasses like Andropogan gayanus and Hyparrhenia involucrate. At the central portion of the reserve are trees like AdansoniaDigitata, commiphora Africana and Dalbergia Melanoxylon. Around the south-eastern part of the reserve are shrubs like Anona senegalensis pilistigma thoningi and Gardoniaferniforlia, large trees like Acacia nilotica, Tamarindusindica, Albeziacharalieri and Taminaliaglancescens also occur scattered in the reserve. These plants not only provide food and harbours the wild animals in the reserve but also have potentials for socio-economic development of the local communities around the reserve.

Fauna Resources:

The reserve supports a good collection of the animals typical of Savannah habitat including Roan antelope, Topi, Reedbuck, Spotted Hyena, Red fronted gazelles among others. Red patas monkey and Baboon are the dominant species among the primates found in the reserve. Sambisa Game Reserve forms the major part of the dry season habitat for about 300 elephants.

In terms of bird life the reserve is very rich, in birds harbouring some species which are rare in Nigeria but so evocative of Africa as a whole including the Ostriches’, secretary birds, pelicans, bustards and ground hornbill. More than 200 species of birds consisting of both resident and migratory have been recorded in the reserve (Grema, 1990; Bukar, 2001). It is also important to note that Sambisa Game Reserve is the last remaining stronghold of wild ostriches in Nigeria. Reptiles are represented by Nile and Savannah monitor lizards and pythons in the reserve.

Socio-economic Component of Sambisa:


There are about 10 villages including Alafia, Balda, Bita, Bulanjibia, Chore, Jeltere, Modube, Maidurmari, Takombare and Yuwe surrounding the Sambisa Game Reserve which traditional right to the land. The population of those communities in 2001 vary ranging from Yuwe about 193 to Bita 2,529. The total estimated population of the communities is approximately 8,352 as in 2001. (Source, National Population Commission).

Settlement Pattern:

The settlement pattern of the 10 communities around Sambisa Game Reserve are sedentary in nature. Their dwelling place were constructed from resources of residues from crops especially corn stalk and grasses except in Bita, Modube and Maidurmari villages where some houses were constructed from mud and corrugated roofing sheets. The nomad tend to migrate, following a define pattern during the dry season they stay around the reserve in search for grazing forage for a period between 5 to 6 months and migrate towards the northern part of the state during the wet season.

Social characteristics of the communities:

In the study area (Sambisa) each village is headed by the ward head (Bulama). The Bulama is answerable to the village head (Lawan) who represent authority and is the linkage with the district head and the emirate. He also has authority over all land in the community especially communal lands. Land is allocated to the villages and their land right are continuous. After the cultivation of land continuously for a number of years the farmer has the customary right to the land and can pass it to his heir.

In addition the Lawan usually settle as disputes relating to social issue such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and ownership of resources. Also, the Lawan usually has good report with traditional rulers and local government area officials which can facilitate access to essential commodities such as fertilizer procurement by the community.

Land Use in Sambisa Area:

The major land use type around the Sambisa Game Reserve is crop cultivation and livestock grazing. The cultivation of crops take place on individual farmers landholding while the grazing of livestock are carried out on either the communal land or illegally within the Sambisa Game Reserve.

Economic activities of the communities:

The local economy of the communities around Sambisa Game Reserve is dominated by subsistence agricultural activities. The cultivation of crop is carried out by rain-fed agriculture. The major crops cultivated include maize, sorghum and beans. Production is mostly for subsistence and surpluses are sold in local markets. In addition to rain-fed agriculture, farming of vegetable crops using irrigation mostly grown on Fadama land largely for market sales are carried out in Chore and Modube communities.

Livestock rearing is another significant economic activity that is practical around the Sambisa Game Reserve. In all communities livestock are kept and they graze around and within the reserve.

Traditionally, the Fulanis were subsistence herders but the lifestyle of most of them gradually changed to a more settled existence embracing new economic activities. Collection of forest products is mainly an off-farm seasonal activity which takes place largely during the dry season. Forest products of significance are the gum Arabic which are collected for sales to generate income. Hunting and fishing are another significant economic activities around the Sambisa Game Reserve.

General Knowledge about Game Reserve

From time immemorial conservation of wildlife resources has been practiced particularly in Africa using diverse indigenous techniques such as the forest groves, parts of some rivers and streams set aside as sacred site by various communities for religious and other traditional rites. In these areas activities like hunting, fishing, tree cutting were either totally forbidden or seasonally used (Sanus, 1997). These were the fore runners of our current in Situ conservation strategies which include National Parks and the different types of Protected Area. The indigenous conservation strategies recognize indigenous knowledge and management system and these systems are governed by local institutions based on culture. The system ensure equity access to members of the local communities.

Just over 100 years ago, it became apparent that the wildlife heritage was under increasing threat from the rapid growth of economic activities and human population (El-Ashry, 1996). That awareness of the environmental problems posed by human development spurred the modern conservation movement which has quite a lot of western influence in the management of natural resources emerged and displaced the indigenous conservation philosophy by the introduction of written discriminatory regulative institution and legislature with a strong non consumptive orientation with limited cultural affiliation except individual valuation (Bukar, 2001).

In the year 252 BC the Emperor Asoka of India passed an edict for the Protection of animals, fish and forests (IUCN 1986). This may be the earliest documented instance of the deliberate establishment of what we today call Protected Area.

In developing countries the level of increase in Protected area is much higher than in the developed countries and the increase is extremely in rapid pace. This is because the developing countries encourage the expansion of Protected area as a means of ensuring faster economic development through eco-tourism.

Nigeria is not an exception in the increase in the number of Protected area. By 1975 there were 30 game reserve and 5 game sanctuaries in addition to the 1,129 forest reserve across the country (Marguba, 1999).

Wherever protected area exist, it is surrounded by local communities who benefit as well as bear some costs for living in close proximity to the protected areas. These costs and benefits of living next to protected areas is today widely investigated particularly in Africa and in most cases where as previously the local people were merely seen as a burden on the periphery of protected area there is now growing recognition that successful long term management of protected area depends on the cooperation and support of local communities on the immediate surroundings (Gemassa, 1994).

Baba Ali Mustapha is with the Department of Planning, Research and Statistic, Ministry of Environment, Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria.


Substantial part of this article was culled from Bukar, B.B. (2001) socio-economic impact of Sambisa game reserve, Post Graduate Diploma Environmental Management PADEM, Dissertation, Department of Geography, University of Maiduguri.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.