Sinoe County – At least one forest ranger has been killed and another seriously wounded at the Sapo National Park in Sinoe County after a nearby community on Monday rioted following the arrests of several residents over illegal mining and poaching.
“One is confirmed [dead] and we are still waiting on our staff for news from the other one,” the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Darlington Tuagben told FPA/New Narratives in a mobile interview.
“He was beaten and tortured to death.”
Tuagben said four other rangers were hospitalized and being treated in Greenville, the capital of Sinoe, and in Grand Gedeh next door.
He said a team of 40 rangers had arrested several members of the community illegally mining in the park and were attacked by a mob of residents while on their way from the park to the town.
It appeared that someone had informed the townspeople about of the illegal miners, Tuagben explained.
“They had machetes, single barrels and everything that you can think of,” he said.
The death of the Friday Pyne comes just a month after another ranger was severely tortured by illegal occupants of the park.
A contingent of police officers of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) has been deployed in the southeastern town to support staffers of the FDA.
Police spokesman Sam Collins said the contingent’s duty was to restore calm to the troubled region, and that Police Inspector General Gregory Coleman would visit the park sometime this week.
During the Liberian civil war (1990-2003), many illicit miners, loggers and poachers occupied the Sapo National Park.
The United Nations and the Government of Liberia conducted a successful resettlement program that saw more than 5,000 leave the park.
In 2010, more than 18,000, mainly illegal artisanal miners, occupied the park, according to the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
Again, a robust public awareness program saw them voluntarily leave the park.
But the illegal activities inside the park are once more on the increase despite conservation efforts from the FDA and its partners, including Conservation International, Fauna and Flora, and Wildlife Fund.
Tuagben said the park has more than 1,000 illegal occupants, with several camps, including “Camp Congo” and “Camp Egypt”.
“If you see a picture of what the park looks like now, you won’t believe it.”
“It is a complete settlement,” Tuagen said. “We have people there who are doing illegal hunting, killing species that are endangered.”
The Sapo National Park is one of 34 international biodiversity hotspots, home to several endangered species such as the elephant, the Pygmy hippopotamus and the West African chimpanzee. A 2009 survey found six new plant species in the 505-squaremile park.
Report by James Harding Giahyue
This story was produced in collaboration with New Narratives and the Thomson Reuters Foundation with funding from Australian Aid.The founder had no say in its content