The good news is that efforts are well underway at Sapo National Park to help conserve the pygmy hippopotamus and ensures protection of its habitat. Rangers have been trained in law enforcement procedures and have been patrolling the park since 2005 and projects to support community livelihoods in surrounding villagers have also been initiated. Illegal mining for gold and subsequent hunting is still being carried out but at a much reduced scale as compared to the height of the crisis, and park mangers and local communities are working closely together to put an end to these activities.
The park has also recently received funding from FFEM (French Government) to support research and biomonitoring projects. One of the interventions to come from this is the community-based biomonitoring programme. Originally started in 2001, but abandoned as a result of the crisis in 2003, the programme aims to track changes in faunal indicator species for key ecological parameters in and around the Park. In April testing of trackers for the bio-monitoring was done with two members of the community being selected. In the next two months training of the trackers in data collection and transect construction will begin. Such a programme will help to provide relative abundance data of pygmy hippos, as well as other key species, and by comparing data from before the civil war Park managers hope to identify and changes in the relative abundance of pygmy hippos as a result of hunting pressure brought by the civil war.
An encouraging sign for hippos in SNP though is that data collected by rangers on routine patrols through park since May 2006 have revealed that hippos still remain in a number of locations across the park, as was noted during the original biomonitoring programme in 2001. Fresh tracks of females and their young have being recorded in areas close to the park boundary, not far from villagers, which may indicate that educational programs around the park, highlighting the importance and protection status of hippos are having an effect.
This blog was written by Robert Howard (Technical Advisor for Bio-monitoring and Research), based at Sapo National Park, Liberia.