EDGE Fellow John Konie recently wrote to give us the news that the President of Liberia had made a visit to Sapo National Park, where Konie is using camera traps to monitor the population of Endangered pygmy hippos (Hexaprotodon liberiensis), EDGE Mammal number 21.
Early last year pygmy hippos were photographed in Liberia for the first time by Konie and ZSL researchers who were training him in how to use camera trapping as a biodiversity monitoring tool. Her Excellency Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was reportedly excited by the images, and we hope that they encouraged her further interest in Sapo National Park.
President Sirleaf visited the headquarters of the National Park in Jalay’s Town on May 5th, en route to officially open the ‘Sinoe Dialogue’, a discussion forum amongst residents of Sinoe County (where Sapo NP is found) in neighbouring Bilibokree. During her visit to Sapo, the President met Forest Development Authority (FDA) rangers like Konie, and called on the people of Liberia to preserve the Park and protect the animals, as well as to halt prohibited activities such as illegal extraction of gold.
President Sirleaf has now formed a committee to ensure that people residing illegally within the Park boundaries relocate to outside the Sapo. There are an estimated 2,000 people living in camps inside the Sapo boundaries, which is not only illegal, but their activities often endanger wildlife and damage the environment that is meant to be protected by the Park. Illegal residents are causing pollution of rivers and hunt bushmeat, including many threatened species. Konie stresses that presence of illegal settlements is one of the greatest threats to Sapo’s environment, and said:
‘There is a need that people living in the park leave. Because, if they continue to live there, they will definitely destroy the forest, and thus; its bio-diversities which we are trying to protect and conserve for future generations to come.’
Furthermore, the President discussed with park officials the issue of the boundary extension; in 2003 an Act was passed to enlarge Sapo on the northeast and northwest sides beyond the river. This was done to ensure that the diversity of forest species is fully protected, especially those such as the pygmy hippo which are dependent on the river. However, boundary demarcation is yet to be carried out and there is still discussion about the park extension at the local level. President Sirleaf was concerned by this lack of action, and has assured the FDA that she would ensure that the discussion on the boundary extension is resolved.
Konie’s monitoring of pygmy hippos and other terrestrial forest species using the camera traps continues, and he recently sent us these images of his latest survey showing him setting up the camera traps, and the elusive species the cameras allow him to study.
Hopefully the President’s visit will result in positive benefits for the wildlife of Sapo National Park, and of course the unusual and remarkable pygmy hippopotamus.