Prior to the 14 year civil war, Liberian wild animals were exploited primarily for their meat – generally called bush meat – which was sold throughout the country.
The most common forms of bush meat seen were usually quartered antelope or whole monkey, which were then wood-smoked until becoming dry enough to last for about two weeks.
The recent appearance of fresh wild animal carcasses (the dead body of animals) in various parts of Monrovia, particularly in Sinkor around the UN Drive Supermarket, and in Paynesville at the SD Cooper and Tubman Boulevard intersection, has become so common that the public at large is growing concerned about the frequency of their sightings. Sometimes a whole family of a particular species (a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of interbreeding) can be seen lined up for sale in these locations.
Questions regarding laws and regulations to control hunting of the valuable animals are being raised. Conservationists are searching for solutions on how to protect these renewable resources, (any natural resource that can be replenished naturally through the passage of time) while trying to sustain a readily available protein supply to people that serves as a source of livelihood to those that hunt them.
Frequently asked questions are: what is the government doing to protect and conserve these animals? Are there any laws on the books to do so and who is in control of this program?
A case in point is the recently confiscated skin of highly endangered leopards at Roberts International Airport.
The government is best suited to respond to these questions, as wildlife is a valuable natural resource that is critical to the survival of Liberia’s ecosystem, especially if it is protected and properly conserved. When conserved and exploited for different uses such as scientific research, medicine, ecotourism, and food, the economic and social benefits work in favor of all Liberians.
There has never been any kind of government sponsored comprehensive survey to assess the overall financial value for bush meat. The only attempt made was by the America’s Philadelphia Zoo in 2002, which carried out a yearlong a public opinion survey. This survey provided information on a partial preliminary estimate. The total estimated trade value of bush meat, according to the information they tallied, was US$78 million (US $46 million from the rural areas and US $31.2 million from the urban areas).
Wild animals have traditionally been used in Liberia as a major source of protein; the value of wildlife beyond a source of food has always been ignored and down played.
Biologically, Liberia’s forests are exceptionally diverse, with high rates of endemism and harboring many more species that are nearly extinct outside the country.
This environment provides a unique haven for scientific research, education, and ecotourism development.
Liberia is home to over 2,900 flowering plants including 240 timber species, approximately 125 mammal species, 590 avian (bird) species, 74 known types of reptiles and amphibians, 162 native fish species, and over 1,000 identified insects.
Other notable fauna (The animals of a particular region, habitat, or geological period) include a significant population of forest elephants, several viable populations of the pygmy hippopotamus, the Jentink’s Duiker, the Zebra Duiker, and the Liberian mongoose. These animals provide a wealth of attractions for many scholars and tourists seeking knowledge and experience.
The Society for the Conservation of Nature in Liberia would like to help the government in the speedy creation of a network of protected areas which is expected to cover 1.1 million hectares of land.
This, they believe, would serve as a representation of all ecosystems and would no doubt secure most of the Upper Guinea Forest hotspot species.