In 2000, for example, Yankari National Park hosted more than 20,000 tourists from over 100 countries. That statistic, which has been fairly consistent over the years since then makes it the most popular tourist destination in Nigeria.
Pundits in the hospitality industry posit that if properly managed, the park could play a significant part in the development and promotion of tourism throughout Nigeria. As a matter of fact, Yankari National Park is one of a few remaining areas left in West Africa where wild animals are protected in their natural habitat.
The park is also one of the most popular eco-destinations in West Africa. That is because ecotourism/ecological tourism is now favoured by many global environmental organizations and aid agencies as a vehicle to sustainable development. Aid and environmental agencies promote conservation of biological diversity by protecting ecosystems that have the local culture, flora and fauna as the main attractions. Yankari National Park fulfills these criteria.
The park is home to several natural warm water springs, as well as a wide variety of flora and fauna. Its location in the heartland of the West African savanna makes it a unique way for tourists and holidaymakers to watch wildlife in its natural habitat.
YNP is an important refuge for over 50 mammal species, including African bush elephant, olive baboon, patas monkey, Tantalus monkey, roan antelope, western hartebeest, West African lion, African buffalo, waterbuck, bushbuck and hippopotamus. The lion population, however, is on the verge of extinction.
There are also more than 350 species of bird found in the park. Of these, 130 are resident, 50 are Palearctic migrants and the rest are intra-African migrants that move locally within Nigeria.
YNP is recognized as having one of the largest populations of elephants in West Africa, estimated at more than 300 as of 2005. The growth of the elephant population has become a problem for surrounding villages at times as the animals enter local farms during the rainy season. The elephants have also stripped the park of many of its baobab trees.
Yankari was initially created as a game reserve in 1956, but later designated Nigeria’s biggest national park in 1991.
Prior to that time, in 1934, the Northern Regional Committee made a recommendation to the Executive Council to establish a pilot game reserve in the Bauchi Emirate. The move was supported by Alhaji Muhammadu Ngeleruma, a minister in the former northern Nigeria Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Around that time, he had been impressed by a visit to a Sudanese game reserve while on a trip to East Africa. On returning, he encouraged the moves to establish something similar in Nigeria.
It followed that in 1956, the Northern Nigeria Government approved the plans for the creation of a Game Preservation area.
Yankari was identified as a region in the south of what was then Bauchi Province where large numbers of wild animals existed naturally and could be protected. In 1957, a game preservation area was carved out and the area was constituted as a Bauchi Native Authority Forest Reserve.
YNP was first opened to the public as a premier game reserve on 1 December 1962. Since then, the Northern Eastern State Government and then the Bauchi State Government have managed the Yankari Game Reserve. The park is now managed by the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the National Park Service.
In 1991, YNP officially became a National Park by decree 36 of the National Government.