Marshall, Margibi County – One of Liberia’s leading conservation reporters’ group, the Wildlife Conservation Reporters Network of Liberia (WCRNL) has named the Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue Protection (LCRP) as its outstanding wildlife conservation organization of the year 2020.
The group, through its National Coordinator, Joseph Wiah, said the award was in recognition of the organization’s tremendous work in rescuing and providing sanctuary for several orphaned and distressed chimpanzees caught in the illegal bushmeat and pet trades.
“We have come to present you this certificate in recognition of your dedicated and committed services rendered to the Liberian people and society, as well as your demonstrated commitment to the conservation of wildlife in Liberia,” Wiah said, while presenting the certificates to LCPR founders, Dr. Jim Desmond and wife Jenny Desmond.
The Desmonds founded LCRP with the mission of providing lifelong care for chimpanzees who are victims of Liberia’s bushmeat and live pet trades. Currently the LCRP is Liberia’s only sanctuary for more than 60 chimpanzees in Marshall, Margibi County.
On behalf of LCRP and Dr. Desmond, Ms. Jenny Desmond thanked the Wildlife Conservation Reporters’ Network for the recognition and said, it would serve as an additional source of motivation for them, as they strive to contribute towards the conservation of chimpanzees in Liberia.
Sixty-two Orphaned Chimpanzees to Get New Home
The award comes at a time the organization is about to complete the construction of the first sanctuary for about 62 rescued chimpanzees, most of whom are under the ages of six and seven.
The sanctuary, which include a night dormitory for the chimps, is specially designed and constructed with solid steel on a 100 acres of forested land leased from the community in Charlesville, near the Farmington River.
During the day, the chimps will come out of the dormitory and spend the day in the forest going about their normal lives, and return home at night to sleep.
Dr. Jim and Jenny Desmond were first hired to care for 66 chimpanzees left on the island in Margibi by the New York Blood Center (NYBC), a United Sates based biomedical research organization.
While in Liberia, they soon discovered illegal bushmeat and pet trades were destroying the chimpanzee populations (apart from those ones that were used for research purposes) and leaving many baby chimps orphaned.
In 2016, they founded LCRP to serve as sanctuary for these captured chimps. Currently, the organization is caring for 62 chimpanzees that will soon be relocated to their new home, a US$600,000 specially designed and constructed building that will served as safe haven for these rescued chimps for the rest of their lives.
‘Chimps Not for Research Purposes’
On a guided tour of the facility, LCRP co-founder, Jenny Desmond said the foremost reason for the sanctuary is to protect the chimps from being killed or caged as pets.
When asked whether LCRP would consider using the chimps for scientific research purposes in the future, Ms. Desmond said they will not be used for any scientific research that would put them in harm’s way.
She said: “If only we can be assured that the vaccine will not harm them, – that might be something to consider, because it will definitely benefit other chimpanzees. But for now, we will not allow something like the COVID-19 vaccine, because people are developing it and so we will never allow it to be used.”
The LCRP project, she noted, is very different from bio lab in that the research institution was using chimpanzees for human benefits, while their project is solely intended to protect chimpanzees and the larger ecosystem.
She stressed the need to work together to change the way everybody sees wildlife in Liberia.
According to her, for every baby chimp that is captured, it is highly likely that its mother was killed, noting that the sanctuary will be an ideal place for the chimps to thrive and live happily. As they grow up, she added that their dwelling place will be rearranged to suit them.
“Every morning, we will allow them to go out there to get something to eat and they will move around,” she said.
“We have about 100 acres of land. These Chimpanzees can’t go out without their care givers and that is the reason we will ensure that they go out with them.”
Speaking further, she clarified that although LCRP is not supported by the Liberian Government, it is in partnership with key government’s agencies including the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT), creating awareness on the conservation of Liberia’s endangered wildlife species, especially the chimpanzees.
Liberia has the largest remaining forest cover in West Africa, rich in plant and animal species- making it one of the biodiversity hotspots in the world.
Sadly, human actions such as mining, logging, unregulated farming and hunting pose serious threats to these plants and animal species, some of which are only found in Liberia.
However, Dr. Jim Desmond says all is not lost. Speaking to reporters shortly before his certification as the best ‘Veterinarian of the Year 2020’, he stressed that Liberia has a potential for a booming ecotourism industry owing to its rich biodiversity values and beautiful landscape, and as such, conserving its endangered species would be a major boost.
He was speaking at the chimpanzees’ current dwelling place at the National Reference Laboratory in Charlesville, where he stated that all is being worked out for the transfer of the chimps.
When asked how the chimps are picked up from the community, he explained that it is done through a coordinated effort with the FDA and the Liberia National Police (LNP).
Most often, staff of LCRP get a phone call about a chimp found within the community and they soon engage the FDA and LNP to intervene and rescue it, he said.
He further stressed that the most important aspect of their work is the education that is being provided to the people involved with the illegal bushmeat trade.
“Most of them want to do the right thing, but they don’t know the law. Once they know that it is illegal to kill these chimps, they would stop,” he added.