Battle for Liberia’s wildlife Rages in Gbarpolu County: FDA, partners Vs Senator Botoe Kanneh

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MONROVIA – Gbarpolu County’s newly elected Senator, Ms. Botoe Kanneh is reported to have intensified her violation of Liberian laws and aggression on the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and its collaborating partners by reportedly initiating attacks on rangers and members of Liberia’s national Wildlife Crime Task Force (WCTF). The Senator’s actions work directly against the country’s commitment to biodiversity conservation, sustainable forest management and protection of endangered species.

Gbarpolu County has therefore become tense due to the increasing conflict between men working for Senator Botoe Kanneh and FDA rangers, members of the WCTF. The Senator’s entourage is said to be obstructing justice by impeding the work of the FDA and WCTF partners in their mandate to confiscate illegally killed and live protected species and arrest offenders. Fortunately, these actions  have not and will not deter the implementation of Liberia’s Wildlife Conservation and Protected Area Management law, the environmental crime section of the penal law, and multiple international protocols to which Liberia is signatory.    

After two previous incidents with Senator Kanneh’s involvement in August and September, new reports gathered from the county allege that on Sunday September 26, 2021 the senator mobilized a large group of men in an organized attack on FDA rangers and WCTF partners while they were performing their constitutional mandate to uphold the law. These activities are critical in places such as Gbarpolu County where FDA and partners have seen a heavy decline in multiple wildlife species’ populations.

It is also reported that Senator Kanneh remains firm in her attempt to force FDA and partners to abandon the Gola National Park and other key areas to allow illegal hunting, poaching and other crimes which clearly undermine immense gains made by the FDA and its partners in the forest sector. Over the past five years, great investment in the fight against wildlife and environmental crime has been made by the European Union, and the governments of the United States and United Kingdom. It is believed that Senator Kanneh’s criminal action is a calculated effort to fulfill campaign promises to illegal hunters who make up a large portion of her votes.

Last week the FDA Wildlife Confiscation Unit burned a large quantity of confiscated bush meat in Gbarma City, Gbarpolu County and vowed to remain undeterred in activities consistent with Liberia’s laws prohibiting the illegal killing of protected species. The burning ceremony was accompanied by a case in the Gbarma Magisterial Court where Mr. Peter Wonmein was convicted of possession of protected species and fined USD250 to be paid to government revenue. Gbarpolu is known as a center for intensive illegal hunting of protected species, reportedly backed by Senator Kanneh.  The senator’s actions are profoundly detrimental to Liberia locally, regionally and globally in the loss of critical biodiversity and unique species and in its reputation in upholding multiple international agreements including a signatory role to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES.

It seems all efforts exerted by the FDA management through its Board of Directors to the national legislature of which Senator Kanneh is member has yet to yield results. FDA management says it will take the matter to the next level by requesting Liberia’s Executive Branch to arm rangers, while increasingly engaging international partners in stopping illicit trade and combating the trafficking of wildlife.

The Manager of the FDA Wildlife Confiscation Unit (WCU) Mr. Ali Kais has described the acts of Senator Kanneh as “an embarrassment to the government of Liberia.” He continued, “We as government cannot sit mute and allow one person to undermine the law against the interests of today’s and future generations.”

For the past five years FDA and its main partners in fighting wildlife crime in Liberia (Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia, Wild Chimpanzee Foundation, Fauna and Flora International, Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection and Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary) have worked relentlessly to establish and operationalize Liberia’s national Wildlife Crime Task Force (WCTF). The WCTF is coordinated by the FDA and also includes the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the Transnational Organized Crime Unit, Interpol and Liberia’s two rescue centers who receive and care for confiscated live wildlife. In 2021 FDA and MoJ signed an Memorandum of Understanding to ensure more effective implementation of relevant laws and collaboration.

Through funding from the European Union, UK AID and USAID, FDA’s partners were able to support the development of confiscation and arrest protocols for wildlife crimes, train law enforcement officers and judiciary throughout the country and provide logistic support to members of the WCTF. The successes of the WCTF from 2019 to August 2021 are reflected in the confiscation of over 200 live animals, over 40 arrests and close to 20 convictions for those involved in wildlife crim. Liberia has been highly commended for these great successes at an international level.  In order for this important work to continue, it is critical individuals such as Senator Kanneh who show outright disregard for laws and those enforcing them are stopped in their tracks.            

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