Yola, Nigeria is best known these days as the holding point of major Boko Haram penetration during the big push southward of last year. It is also now the long-term home of many refugees from points farther north in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states, who fled their homes and are still too scared or broke to go back, or whose homes were destroyed in the insurgency.
But what is more remarkable about Yola is the profusion of trash animals.
Yes, trash animals.
If you look up “trash animals” on Google the first clear reference (without punctuation between the two words), is Trash Animals: How We Live with Nature’s Filthy, Feral, Invasive, and Unwanted Species. This is a collection of essays published by Minnesota University Press, described as follows. “From pigeons to prairie dogs, reflections on reviled animals and their place in contemporary life. Each essay focuses on a so-called trash species—gulls, coyotes, carp, and magpies, among others—examining the biology and behavior of each in contrast to the assumptions widely held about them.”
The other major reference to is to the Portuguese street artist Boradlo II, who this year has made a name for himself in Lisbon by littering the city with animals made of rubbish. Using aluminum cans, old tires, scrap wood, broken appliances, and so forth, he creates colorful animals at otherwise boring city corners, and in the process relieves the landfills of some of the garbage that would otherwise still be there.
Yola’s trash animals are neither so scholarly nor so beautiful – although in a sense they share traits of both the Minnesota and Portuguese usages.
They are quite literally animals who eat trash, and most of the time, burning trash.
Yola is not the cleanest of cities. Municipal services broke down somewhere along the line, and both the paved and dirt roads riddled with potholes are lined in many places with everyone’s garbage. This is not littering, cast off bits and bobs that lazy people left behind – no. This is impromptu landfill, without the fill. Where we have garbage day once a week, the citizens of Yola do too. Except, instead of leaving it out in bins to be picked up by city workers, they just literally take their garbage and dump it on the side of the road. Then they burn it. That doesn’t seem to get rid of it though, and the byways of Yola, especially on the outskirts, are defined by firm, wide lines of burning plastic, paper, food remains, and even fecal matter.
Standing in the middle of this burning trash, and eating it, stand a wide variety of animals. Perhaps it could be expected to find trash pigs – but here, trash pigs are a relatively rare sight, which we only saw in the slum neighborhood on the other side of the bridge over the Benue River, near Gotel.
Much more common are the trash goats – ok, not so unusual to see goats eating garbage (but this garbage is on fire!). But also trash dogs, trash horses, and even trash roosters and trash chickens and a couple of trash ducks. That’s right – trash ducks, standing in the middle of fire, eating burning plastic. One trash duck had a plastic ring (not burning) trapping its beak shut as it ran around, and all that seemed to trouble it was that this interfered with its snacking.
My colleague William became so impressed by this sight, he embarked on a series of photos of trash animals, some of which I include here.
One important thing to note is that the word “trash” MUST precede the name of the animal. It is not correct to say “trash horses, goats, and pigs.” It must be trash horses, trash goats, and trash pigs. These are mutations, the beginning of new species. Nigeria is not noted for its wildlife, but here, in the midst of one of the poorest urban spaces in the country, evolution is happening.
The really frightening part about this is that people eat some of these animals. The goats, the pigs, and the chickens end up on people’s tables, so not only are the Yolans inhaling burning plastic on a daily basis, but they are also eating the tasty flesh of animals who survive on it.
No wonder they were so sturdy to repel Boko Haram’s attacks. There is, after all, nothing hardier than a man who has eaten the meat of a trash goat.