Rare Sighting Of Forest Elephants From Guinea Brings Renewed Hope For Elephant Conservation In Liberia

Photos of the two elephants which crossed over from the Ziama Man and Biosphere Reserve in Guinea seen in Nimba County, Liberia – FDA rangers seen in photo (right) providing protection (Photo credit: FDA)

On the morning of the 4th of September 2020, residents of northern Nimba County woke up to the presence of two elephants walking about their community. The sighting of the two forest elephants, which had crossed over from the Ziama Man and Biosphere Reserve in Guinea, was a rarity that captivated the imagination of onlookers. The impressive size and commanding presence of these wild animals as they passed in every town was one which made people flock in from far and near to catch a glimpse. In this digital age, it wasn’t long before photos and videos of the elephants were circulating on social media. What has been especially striking for onlookers, is that, as the elephants are habituated, i.e. used to human presence, they are not bothered by presence of people. This however has created a risky situation, with people standing too close to the elephants and in some cases attempting to touch and feed them.

Photos of the two elephants which crossed over from the Ziama Man and Biosphere Reserve in Guinea seen in Nimba County, Liberia – community onlooker (right) seen in photo (Photo credit: FDA)

As a result of the delicate and urgent nature of the situation, the Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Hon. C. Mike Doryen promptly travelled to Nimba to engage with communities and supervise the field operation required to keep the animals safe. On the 8th of September, the FDA Managing Director along with his team met with officials of the Centre Forestier N’Zérékoré (CFZ), the Guinean forest agency responsible for the management of the Ziama MAB, who arrived Liberia at Ganta to support the FDA, given their experience with these elephants. They will support the FDA in monitoring and safeguarding the elephants for the next few weeks.

According to the FDA Technical Manager for Conservation, Mr Blamah Goll, the FDA and CFZ continue to work together as part of a cross-border collaboration for the management of the Ziama-Wonegizi-Wologizi (ZWW) transboundary forest landscape between Liberia and Guinea for which a Bilateral Agreement was signed in 2019. As part of this agreement, a long term conservation strategy will be developed to ensure the safety of elephants and other globally important species who know no borders. Mr Goll further stated that Liberia has made significant progress in elephant conservation, joining the Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI) since 2015. He added “Liberia has also developed a National Elephant Action Plan (NEAP), which will provide guidance and actions for the sustainable management of forest elephants in Liberia.

Hon. C. Mike Doryen, Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority, FDA (center) receiving the Guinean Authorities (Photo credit: FFI)

The personal involvement of the FDA Managing Director testifies to the importance that Liberia, which has the largest portion of the Upper Guinea Rainforest Ecosystem that spans from Senegal to Togo, attaches to the protection of its unique biodiversity. Hon. Doyen was keen to transmit the message of biodiversity conservation on Radio Nimba 99.5 to sensitize communities on the need to safeguard these elephants and the lives of people. To ensure their safety, people should maintain a safe distance of at least 100 meters from the elephants and minimise noise.

As part of the radio talk show, a caller asked about the elephants’ nationality, based on their concern that the Guinean team was in Liberia to take back ‘their elephants’. This goes to show that people do appreciate wildlife with favourable implication for protecting animals in Liberia. Concern remains that the elephants if not adequately secured, are at risk of being attacked, given the series of elephant killing in the country over the last two years. However, the excitement this has caused creates a rare opportunity to raise awareness about the importance and plight of the African forest elephant, a threatened species, which is at the risk of extinction across its geographic range.

Dr Mary Molokwu-Odozi, the Liberia Country Manager of Fauna & Flora International (FFI), an international NGO based in both Liberia and Guinea, who are currently supporting the FDA and CFZ on ground, said “we have perceived a glimmer of hope these last few daysthough not without apprehension about public safety – that wildlife can be appreciated alive and not just as bushmeat if proper awareness is created. This is a rare opportunity, and we are excited at the level of support from people from communities where these animals have passed, some volunteering to monitor them. There is indeed hope for biodiversity protection in Liberia.

All things being said, the government will continue to rely on members of the public, especially residents of communities living close to the forest through which these elephants will travel, to ensure the protection of these valuable national assets. In the long term, this will be contingent upon securing a network of protected areas and forest corridors that allow for free movement of wild animals without harm to people. These unique wildlife have the potential to act as a magnet for wildlife tourism that will improve the livelihoods of local communities.

In other parts of the world, there is evidence that a live elephant or any other wildlife, is worth much more than a dead one. We look forward to such a future for Liberia’s wildlife.