Wildlife in Crisis: Liberia, West Africa
by Reg Hoyt, Senior Vice President, Conservation & Science, Philadelphia Zoo
Since 1992 the Philadelphia Zoo has worked in Liberia, West Africa to promote conservation action for its rainforests and unique wildlife. Zoo conservation efforts began during Liberia’s civil war and focused on maintaining a core group of Liberian conservationists, but today much of our work focuses on addressing the over-harvest of bushmeat.
Over the past few years, the Zoo has been working with its Liberian partners at the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia (SCNL) and the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) to better understand the extent and impact of the bushmeat trade from the local hunters to the urban markets. In January of 2002, twenty Liberian university students were recruited to conduct the “Urban Public Opinion & Bushmeat Survey” in eight communities. During the survey more than 2,000 people were interviewed and bushmeat markets around the country were visited. Following the survey, a pilot public awareness campaign was undertaken to promote awareness concerning endangered species, Liberia’s protected wildlife, and the role of government, non-governmental organizations and citizens in conservation initiatives. In December 2002, 12 Liberian students conducted a second survey in Monrovia to evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot public awareness campaign in changing opinions.
Preliminary results of the urban survey were presented at a workshop in December 2002 in Monrovia, Liberia to representatives from more than 20 local organizations and agencies. The survey revealed the core beliefs of many Liberians and identified challenges to mediating the bushmeat crisis that will inform future strategies. Complete results will be available on the BCTF website, and included as part of the final report to the Conservation Endowment Fund of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, who funded this initiative.
The workshop further resulted in the formation of the “Liberia Bushmeat Working Group” - the first cooperative effort to address the bushmeat crisis in Liberia. The membership, which includes all of the organizations represented at the workshop, agree to cooperatively conduct research, promote awareness, and facilitate action on behalf of Liberia’s wildlife.
The Philadelphia Zoo actively addresses the bushmeat crisis in Liberia in many other ways:
The University of Liberia and Cuttington University College in Liberia will each offer a course entitled “Introduction to the Bushmeat Issue” as part of their environmental curriculum partnership with the Zoo.
The Zoo provides $6,000 per year to support two Community Relations Officers stationed among the villages adjacent to Liberia’s only protected area, Sapo National Park. While their primary roles are to serve as liaisons between the communities, Park staff, and SCNL, they also conduct environmental education programming, and collect bushmeat data from six villages.
The Zoo is working with two Liberian organizations, CEEB and GECOMSA, to gather on-going data from the bushmeat markets of Monrovia and Zwedru.
Plans for the Future
Twenty students from the University bushmeat courses will be selected to conduct the “Rural Public Opinion & Bushmeat Survey” in March 2003, in five villages along important bushmeat transportation routes. Data collected during this survey will help us to better understand the impact of the bushmeat trade not only from a biological standpoint, but also from a social and economic context. This project is funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), managed by Conservation International.
From April 2003 to March 2004, the Philadelphia Zoo will conduct a National Public Awareness Campaign in Liberia. This campaign is being developed in partnership with the signatories to the Liberia BWG and will utilize a wide range of media to promote priority messages throughout the country. Once completed, a survey will be conducted to evaluate the impact of the campaign’s messages upon the opinions of rural and urban citizens. The CEPF is also providing support to this Public Awareness Campaign.
Other plans include the further evaluation of the bushmeat markets in Liberia’s major urban areas, with particular emphasis on the possibility of bushmeat exportations from Liberia to neighboring countries and the United States. Data analysis will also continue on the impact of hunting on species of concern in Liberia, and follow-up research is anticipated.