On the 20th January, Ben Collen, Janna Rist and Olivia Daniel set off to Liberia to set up a monitoring programme in Sapo National Park, and to try and capture the elusive Pygmy hippo on camera……They arrived back a week ago with a much lighter load and exciting news….here is the first of Ben’s blogs from Liberia:
Frantic last minute preparations were completed and the non-arrival of all of the memory cards for the camera traps was overcome in time, to board the plane to Liberia early on the morning of the 18th January 2008. 146 kg of kit was successfully loaded and we set off via Brussels (Belgium) and Abidjan (Ivory Coast), before arriving at our destination, Monrovia (Liberia) late at night.
Our concerns about getting the cameras into Liberia proved unfounded as we walked straight through customs, thanks to the last minute hard work of the FDA and their well placed phone call on our behalf.
We were met by an oppressive sticky heat, (32 degrees centigrade still at 10 pm), and the kindly face of Gomu, FFI’s logistics man in Monrovia.
With 15,000 peace keeping personnel on the ground, the first thing that strikes you about Monrovia is the heavy UN presence – up until Congo, the largest UN deployment in any country.
Just three years out of civil war, Liberia’s transitional government has given way to a democratically elected party headed by Ellen Johnson Serlief – the first female president of any African nation. With the exception of George Weah’s Hummvies, practically the only vehicles on the road other than standard issue white UN and NGO 4x4s are the yellow taxis.
The next few days were filled with meetings with our collaborators, FDA and FFI, where we planned in more detail the training side of the project for Liberian staff, the logistics of getting out to Sapo, and getting caught up on the FDA and FFI’s work in Liberia. We also met a number of NGOs including SCNL (Society for the Conservation of Nature in Liberia) who are currently planning some work in and around the Sapo area on crop raiding. The cases which kept the cameras safe on the long journey to SapoFinal field supplies and those all important things we had forgotten to bring out from the UK were bought, and we were off to Sapo – it was Tuesday the 22nd of January.
Up until relatively recently the journey has been done in UN helicopters to Greenville on the coast, with a 2 hour drive from there to the Park HQ, but due to the difficulty in getting on scheduled flights as a non UN worker, 4x4s are now the preferred form of transport across country. Before the war, the journey was reported to take around 8 hours. Degradation of the roads meant we felt lucky that we achieved it in a bone jarring 12 hours. The dry season helped us considerably, as in the past wet season, it has taken Robert and Konnie up to 5 days.
Arriving well after dark, we were greeted by the sound of Chimps calling from the forest on the first night. Sapo proves to be a promising location for field work.