The first nationwide study of Liberia’s wildlife population was recently conducted, which showed an estimated 7,000 chimpanzees in the country.
This makes Liberia the home to the second largest population of West African chimpanzees, and is therefore potentially one of the most viable populations and a priority for conservation of the species, Alex Peal, Founder of the Society for Conservation of Nature in Liberia has said.
According to him, Liberia has the largest blocks of continuous forest in West Africa that are providing habitat for numerous wildlife species.
As an expert on conservation, Mr. Peal disclosed further that the recent study revealed that the majority of chimpanzees in Liberia live outside of protected areas.
He said as a result of the study, the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) has committed to establish a biologically representative network of protected areas covering at least 30 percent of the country’s forest area.
Currently, there are only three protected areas in Liberia, the Sapo National Park, Mount Nimba Nature Reserve and Lake Piso Community Reserve, in Grand Cape Mount County; representing only 6 percent of Liberia’s total forest area, he said.
“The combination of large-scale resource exploitation planned for Liberia and widespread unsustainable hunting may jeopardize the continued survival of Liberia’s chimpanzees and other wildlife,” Mr. Peal observed.
In some regions, he said illegal hunters (poachers) may specialize in killing chimpanzees as their large size and the high price of their meat make them profitable targets.
He added that a bush meat survey reported 58 chimpanzee carcasses in a commercial hunting camp near the Sapo National Park. The growing demand for chimpanzee infants in Asia also may be a factor in the targeting of chimpanzees.
In a release, Peal said, “A wildlife conservation and welfare tool: sanctuary development and management environmental crime is any breach of national or international law or treaty that exists to ensure the conservation and sustainability of the world’s environment, biodiversity and natural resources.
“This type of crime includes poaching, and the illegal trade and ownership of protected wildlife species. Law enforcement interventions are necessary to protect valuable species.
“Sanctuaries play a vital role in the battle against the illegal wildlife trade. Where there are no sanctuaries, there is little incentive for wildlife officials to seize illegally held and traded live animals, nor community education.
“Consequently, few to no confiscations and prosecutions take place. Sanctuaries serve the immediate need of rescuing, rehabilitating, providing life-long care, and in some cases, releasing healthy primates back to natural habitat.
“Sanctuaries contribute many local, social, economic, and environmental benefits, in addition to supporting law enforcement.
“They provide opportunities for people in nearby communities to learn about wildlife, the importance of protecting habitat, and the laws governing wildlife trade.
“Sanctuaries provide local employment and training opportunities, a market for local farmers, and support for a variety of other businesses. In addition, they can promote development of local infrastructure and alternative livelihoods, helping to alleviate poverty.
“They can also provide for tourism benefit when properly designed and constructed.
“We have once again come to a crisis point in this tiny developing West African Nation of Liberia, where after a successful recent campaign to save its people from the claws of Ebola barely a month ago, there is another distressing phenomenon where a colony of over sixty researched Chimpanzees has been abandoned to parish on six agriculturally unproductive islands. The animals have been used to research for vaccines to improve human health.”