According to Flora and Fauna International, “Liberia is home to large sections of Upper Guinean Forest – one of the world’s great tropical forest ecosystems that is rich in endemic and rare species. Diana monkeys, chimpanzees, pygmy hippos and many other endangered species all rely on this forest for their survival.”
However, wildlife in Liberia are under threat from legal mining as in the case of the East Nimba Nature Reserve which ArcelorMittal is allegedly claiming as part of its concession area; illegal mining by itinerant illegal miners from countries in West Africa, illegal logging, poaching, commercial hunting and slash and burn agriculture.
Poverty is endemic to Liberia, according to official statistics as well as the World Bank, despite its rich endowment with natural resources, part of which includes large tracts of tropical rainforest that constitutes 40 percent of the area described as the Upper Guinea Forest, which straddles Liberia Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast.
Of growing concern to conservationists, both local and international, is the threat posed by commercial hunters, illegal miners and illegal loggers. In Liberia, the trade in bush meat and endangered species continues to thrive despite what authorities of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) say are best efforts to contain the situation.
But the FDA has often come under public criticism for its handling of the situation. Reports of corruption by FDA officers are rife. According to Gbarpolu County Senator Botoe Kanneh, FDA officers are engaged in the sale of bush meat confiscated from hunters and traders alike.
“I’m very aware of the FDA’s action in dealing with this situation because I am a witness. They arrest the people and take the meat to sell on the market. We are talking about a huge quantity of meat being arrested by the FDA under the pretense of protecting wildlife,” Senator Kanneh said.
She further maintains that the people have a legitimate right to earn a living and, because they have no alternatives, they resort to commercial hunting for survival
“I believe that the FDA does not understand the law,” she said. “Section 5.3.2 of the conservation law talks about sustainable forestry conservation, where the government is obligated to engage the communities and facilitate means to improve the lives of rural people who depend on the forest. Instead of the FDA ensuring alternative livelihood solutions, they are arresting the citizens, taking away their living and putting them into prisons. This is highly wrong to do so.”
She continued, “My citizens were arrested for what they considered as not protecting wildlife. But what really puzzled me is that these people were taken away from their children and no one cared for the little ones. This is an abuse of the rights of humans. How does the government want these children to survive when their parents are not around?
“They took away more than eight bags of meat to an unknown place, not the FDA sub office in the county. I wanted to report the meat to the office, but instead, they took it to the market. They took the meat there to the market to look for customers to sell the meat. So, when I got there I told the people to take back the meat because it belongs to them. The law said wherever you find your property, you have the right to take possession of them. The dry meat is the property of the hunters and not the FDA people who want to have them sold,” she said.
Disavowing her involvement in the bush meat trade in which she was well engaged prior to her election to the Senate, she declared:
“I am telling the truth. I will never be against international law that has to do with the protection of wildlife. People say that I am a ‘bush meat Senator’. It is history, but I am no longer involved in such business. Therefore, the FDA should not use my photo in a story with bush meat as though I am in the business”.
Judging from the Senator’s remarks, it can logically assumed that her action ordering bush meat sellers to repossess the meat seized by FDA officers has sent the wrong message, conveying a distinct impression that commercial hunters can benefit and find protection under the Senator’s blanket of impunity, according to a Liberian environmental activist.
Senator Kanneh is urged to reconsider her stance and work actively with local communities, conservationists including the FDA, to develop and strengthen accountability measures/procedures alongside the development, promotion and implementation of sustainable livelihood alternatives.
Through such action, the threats to the environment can be mitigated and eventually brought under control. While her expressed concerns for the livelihood of her people are genuine, yet they do not outweigh concerns about the future of Liberia’s flora and fauna given the accelerated rate of destruction of the nation’s remaining forest cover.
The FDA, for its part, is urged to treat with urgency reports of the involvement of government officials and influential individuals in poaching activities, especially the hunting of endangered species such as pangolins, pygmy hippos and bush elephants.
According to informed sources, some officials with links to dubious Chinese businessmen are deeply involved with the trade in endangered species. And they are reportedly very active in Senator Kanneh’s home County of Gbarpolu. In the view of conservationists and a leading environmental activist (name withheld), Senator Kanneh has a responsibility and moral obligation to act against the destruction of the country’s wildlife.
This includes action to clamp down on illegal activities in our forests, which inevitably includes firm action against poaching and commercial hunting. After all, Liberia is all we have and we have a moral obligation to protect our environment for future generations.
This is just a piece of kind advice to our distinguished Gbarpolu County Senator Botoe Kanneh.