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Protected Areas and the pygmy hippopotamus

By on February 2, 2007 in Uncategorized, EDGE Updates, Focal species, Pygmy hippopotamus

The EDGE team would like to highlight the work of all individuals and organizations working to conserve EDGE species. Please send information to [email protected].

The following information was sent to us by Stephen van der Mark, Flora and Fauna International’s Senior Programme Manager:

Liberia is recovering from nearly 14 years of civil conflict. Displaced and war-affected communities are slowly returning to their ancestral lands, but they face enormous obstacles in their pursuit of a basic livelihood. Whilst there are fresh hopes for Liberia’s reconciliation and revival, rural communities are in dire need of economic development. As agriculture resumes in rural areas, human-wildlife conflicts adjacent to protected areas may threaten the success of conservation activities. Several endangered or threatened species have been implicated in crop raiding by local communities in Liberia, including the chimpanzee and pygmy hippopotamus.

The pygmy hippo is much less familiar than the larger, gregarious common hippo. A secretive and largely solitary forest animal, found alongside rivers in densely wooded areas, it is confined to four West African states: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast. Local communities endow the species with mystical properties, believing, for example, that it carries a diamond in its mouth at night to light its path.

Currently classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, the pygmy hippo is threatened by logging, agricultural encroachment and, to a lesser extent, the bushmeat trade. Regional unrest and instability has also reduced the effectiveness of protected areas and the enforcement of logging controls. Liberia’s Sapo National Park still harbours a sizeable population of pygmy hippos, but the level of protection for this and other key areas is inadequate.

Many animals are killed to protect crops from destruction, with much of the meat being sold locally or in urban bushmeat markets. Some members of the communities living alongside Sapo National Park believe that crop destruction is perpetrated by animals from within the park. This weakens support for the park and its conservation mission. Establishing which species are really responsible for the damage is a prerequisite for the implementation of measures that will reduce crop raiding and the negotiation of benefit-sharing schemes to compensate for crop losses caused by park animals.

A new project to conserve the western chimpanzee and pygmy hippo, by addressing human-wildlife conflicts adjacent to Sapo National Park, Liberia, West Africa, is about to be implemented by two of FFI’s partners in Liberia: Forest Partners International and the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia. This pilot project will use video camera monitoring to evaluate the level and forms of crop raiding by wildlife, especially by the two flagship species, in target communities adjacent to Sapo National Park and enable FFI’s local partners to master the relevant monitoring techniques. Neighbouring communities will be told how and to what degree chimpanzees and pygmy hippos are genuinely affecting agricultural activities, and the data gathered will enable these communities and the Forestry Development Authority to mitigate damage to crops by wildlife, thereby reducing negative attitudes towards the park and, in particular, the chimpanzee and pygmy hippo. The project will serve to foster community awareness and understanding of the protected status of the target species, while new footage of Liberian animals that have rarely been studied or photographed in the wild will supplement current knowledge about these species and help to raise additional funding for future studies and conservation activities. For further information please contact: [email protected]