Liberia: EU-Funded Project On Combating Wildlife, Forest Crime Celebrates Achievements

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Monrovia – Formal programing marking the closing of the successfully completed EU-funded project known as “Strengthening Local Communities and the Law Enforcement Network to combat Wildlife and Forest Crime in Liberia” was held recently at Libassa Ecolodge in Kpan Town, Margibi County.

During the ceremony, Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), C. Mike Doryen, commended the European Union delegation for its support to FDA, the lead partner Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF), and partners. Mr. Doryen also expressed the hope for continued cordial working relations between the FDA and partner institutions following numerous years of collaboration.

The FDA boss called for the establishment of a National Community Ecoguard Service in the Liberian forests.

According to Mr. Doryen, there is a need to have community members in the forest to help conserve Liberia’s proposed protected areas. He said under the government program, the FDA will allow Community Ecoguard activities to be carried out in all Liberian forest landscapes.

The monetary value of the EU funded project is EUR 1,875,000 of which EUR 1,500,000 came from the European Union, while EUR 375,000 came from co-funding of partner institutions.

The project has been led by the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF), with project partners the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia (SCNL), Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection (LCRP), Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary (LiWiSa), and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

In a welcome remark, the Executive Director of Society for Conservation of Nature (SCNL), Michael F. Garbo, recognized all partners and said the bush meat trade has been reduced for the past three and half years through the support of the European Union to Liberia and believed that the project has been successful and prayed for a renewed program under the same EU project soon.

The stars of the day were the Community Volunteers, a group of 34 former female bush meat sellers who thanked the EU project, now spread awareness in markets about the destruction of the bush meat trade and the Liberian wildlife laws.

The Community Volunteer Program has resulted in 27 women quitting the sale of bush meat, and survey results show that six markets in Monrovia and Paynesville that previously sold bush meat in 2019 no longer have bush meat sellers.

The survey conducted during the project also found that increased law enforcement by FDA and the Community Volunteers’ activities, led to reduction in sale of bush meat by 50% or more in most city markets.

An ex-bushmeat seller, Comfort Davies, appealed to the government to ensure that wildlife law is properly enforced to ensure healthy forests and livelihoods for generations to come.

The Community Volunteers provided informative entertainment for attendees through a dramatic performance on the risks and dangers of selling bush meat, as well as the law prohibiting the trade of Liberia’s protected wildlife. The performances are regularly conducted throughout markets in Monrovia and Paynesville.

For her part, the Country Director for Wild Chimpanzee Foundation, Dr. Annika Hillers, said the project brought together many partner institutions and other stakeholders. Dr. Hillers lauded the (FDA) Wildlife Confiscation Unit, the core element of the National Wildlife Crime Task Force that was established and operationalized by the project, for its hard work in the field.

Through the actions of the Wildlife Confiscation Unit, many animals have been taken to sanctuaries for care before being released back to their forest home, as well as an increase in arrests and prosecutions of violators.

The Wildlife Crime Task Force, established in 2019, under the support of the EU funding, plays a leading role in the enforcement the National Wildlife Conservation and Protected Area Management Law. The Task Force is hosted by FDA, comprises the FDA Wildlife Division and Wildlife Confiscation Unit, EPA, TCU, Interpol, Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection, and Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary.

Throughout the project timeline, protocols were developed for confiscation of illegally traded wildlife, for arrests, and the Wildlife Confiscation Unit were trained in animal handling and care.

Dr. Hillers expressed her anticipation for further project funding support from the European Union, and also thanked the former female bush meat sellers in the Community Volunteer Program for their tireless efforts to end the illegal trade.

She also spoke about other project achievements, particularly the establishment of the national Community Ecoguard Program which is active in numerous (proposed) protected areas of Liberia, and has been active at Grebo-Krahn National Park since 2014.

The project helps WCF and partners to support about 250 Community Ecoguards across Liberia through collaboration with community members. Other beneficiaries of the project are the FDA, the Forestry Training Institute (FTI), the Environmental Protection Agency, the Ministry of Justice, and the Liberia National Police through the Transnational Organized Crime Unit and Interpol.

Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary was represented by Sanctuary Director, Susan Wiper, who expressed gratitude   to the EU for helping them care for the animals that were brought in by the FDA Wildlife Confiscation Unit.

The project funding assisted LiWiSa, through the construction of new enclosures to house confiscated animals, a veterinary clinic, as well as supporting Liberian salaries and food for the animals. The project provided great help to maintain the high daily costs of maintaining the sanctuary.

James Desmond, representing LCRP thanked the EU for its support to help provide housing for confiscated chimpanzees in the sanctuary, which was sadly desperately required, following an increase of confiscated live chimpanzees in recent years. He also praised the collaboration with the Wildlife Crime Taskforce, and the entire “family” of stakeholders, whose labors have led to more effective wildlife confiscations of wild animals. He also reminded attendees that for each chimpanzee that arrives at the sanctuary, another ten have been brutally killed.

In a brief statement, the Board Chairman of FDA, Harrison S. Karnwea, Sr. thanked all forest donor partners that assisted in the area of conservation. Mr. Karnwea urged that awareness should be based on climate change-related effects on the global community.

The FDA board chairman also called for the safety of all forest protected areas, and further admonished everyone to be a tourism ambassador to the Liberian forests to encourage more investors in Liberia and help raise more revenue for the government.

Meanwhile, the European Union Program Manager, Stephan Cocco, deputizing for the keynote speaker (the EU Ambassador), commended the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation Country Director Dr. Annika Hillers for her hard work, as well as other partners for their support.

He said Liberia is home to natural wealth; abundant natural resources, unlike many other countries around the world. “Species of wildlife are unique to Liberia, the natural heritage can contribute to the development and the growth of Liberia,” he added.

Mr. Cocco also noted that having the political will is of utmost importance to save the Liberia’s unique forests, biodiversity, and to ratify many international conventions, including the biodiversity convention and the implementation to improve the governance of the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) in the Liberian Forestry sectors.

The president of the Liberia Marketing Association (LMA), Mrs. Elizabeth Sambolah promised the FDA and partners that the bush meat trade in markets will reduce further from 50 percent to 75 percent before the end of August 2022. She promised to work along with her marketers to end the illegal trade.

At the same time, the House Committee Chairman on  Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Representative Prince Tokpah, thanked the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation and partners for their hard work and asked that Superintendents and other government representatives should stand with FDA and WCF in the protecting of Liberia’s wildlife in the forest, while the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture,  Fisheries and Forestry, Margibi County Senator, Dr. Jim W. Tornonlah,  welcomed the actions to end the bush meat trade in Liberia.

Senator Tornonlah described change as something that is good, but also painful. He also called on partners to step up their gains to support the protection of wildlife in Liberia and urged the Ministry of Internal Affairs to have a focal person to work along with the FDA in the rural parts of Liberia for prosecution of violators.

The event was a great opportunity for diverse stakeholders to share their successes stories in combating wildlife and forest crime in Liberia under the  important EU-funded project, and to discuss priorities for future planning on the ongoing battle to conserve wildlife and the forests of Liberia.

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