Liberia: Former Bushmeat Sellers Certificated As Ambassadors for Wildlife Conservation

The Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF), the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), the Liberia Marketing Association (LMA), and partners have certificated twenty women in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, who are former bushmeat sellers and have successfully gone through a 6-month Community Volunteer Program. 

The program provided training on the National Wildlife Conservation and Protected Area Management Law, protected species, the risk of transfer of zoonotic diseases, as well as ecotourism potential created by Liberia’s unique wildlife and forests, and communication skills.

On February 2, 2024, twenty women in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, were certificated by the British Ambassador, Neil Bradley and the LMA Market Superintendent for Buchanan, Madam Victoria Sherman, for successfully completing the Community Volunteer Program, as they transform from wildlife “bush meat” sellers to legal businesses owners.

The twenty graduates in the Port City are part of 261 women across the country that have already successfully completed the program and are now ambassadors for Wildlife Conservation, instead of depleting it.

In his keynote address at the occasion, the British Ambassador assigned near Monrovia, Neil Bradley, lauded the WCF, FDA, LMA, partners, and the women for their willingness to change from the sales of bush meat to other, now legal businesses. 

The Ambassador said Liberia is well known as a global biodiversity hotspot, emphasizing that the forests and wildlife are national treasures that must be protected for future generations; adding, “Because when we destroy nature, we undermine our very foundations.”

“Almost 70 percent of the world's wildlife has been lost in the past half century – a lifetime to many of us, but the blink of an eye in the grand sweep of evolution, as many of one million species of plants and animals are threatened with extinction,” Bradley noted. 

He indicated that it is a sobering fact that western chimpanzees are a critically endangered species, as estimates suggest that there are only 35,000 individuals left in the wild, and of which less than 7,000 live in Liberia's forests. 

“Over the past 25 years, western chimpanzee populations have declined by over 80%, mostly due to poaching and habitat loss,” the Ambassador observed. 

“This is why the UK funding of this project and others is helping to sustain the Liberian forests and protect your wildlife. The UK is supporting anti-trafficking activities, training of Eco-guards and rangers, strengthening law enforcement, raising public awareness and, crucially, providing alternative economic benefits for communities,” Bradley indicated.

He acknowledged and commended the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation, RSPB, Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary, SCNL, the Forestry Development Authority and the Liberia Marketing Association for their tremendous collaborative efforts and hard work to empower local women to reduce the Illegal Wildlife trade in Liberia and at the same time thanked the Community Volunteers present, noting that the program is a powerful example of how, by working together, “We can protect Liberia's precious biodiversity and stem the tide of loss.”

Madam Cecelia J. Weah, a proxy for the LMA President, Elizabeth Sambolah, expressed in her opening statement, joy and noted of the gains the Community Volunteer program with the female bushmeat sellers is making.

Weah thanked God for the international and local partners empowering the women, whom she noted was difficult for them from the initial stage to leave the bushmeat business.

  “They are now comfortable selling their bitter balls, onions, pepper, among many other things and earning money from those businesses than the constraints they were going through during the sales of bushmeat.

“Many times, FDA used to confiscate those bush meats and burn them in their presence, thus causing huge losses, mental health challenges and more debts,” Madam Weah revealed.

The Manager for Awareness and Ecotourism Division of FDA, Madam Comfort T. Sakui, said Liberia is a country that is better for national heritage because of its forests and animals.  

She thanked those leading on the program, in particular Madam Peaches S. Cummeh, FDA Awareness and Ecotourism Officer, who is leading on the Community Volunteer program, and participants, recalling that the process started as far back as 2019 when the introduction of the European Union project began strengthening local communities and the law enforcement network to combat wildlife and forest crime in Liberia. 

Sakui also appreciated the WCF, SCNL, Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary, RSPB, The Nature Compact, and other related forest partners in the forest sectors for their concerted and collaborative efforts in getting the project to its present stage. 

“The FDA wants to admonish all of its stakeholders, including local dwellers across the country to join in the fight against illegal wildlife trade and help preserve our natural resources which are essential to our collective wellbeing,” she stressed. 

She also called on FDA partners, local and international, to continue their generosity in supporting and collaborating to empower more women and communities across the country; adding, “In this program, hunters have been trained to serve as forest eco-guards, some of them go on biomonitoring programs. These are the many ways we go against illegal hunting in Liberia.”

The FDA, LMA, WCF, the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia (SCNL), The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), and Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary (LiWiSa), with support from the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund/UKAID, have worked with 300 female bushmeat sellers in ten markets in various counties in Liberia, who were involved in the sales of bushmeat. 

The project entitled “Empowering local women to reduce illegal Wildlife Trade in Liberia started in July 2022 and since then has made huge progress by working with close to 80 women who are patrolling as Community Ecoguards and raising awareness in the forests across Liberia, ensuring that it is not only about the 300 female bushmeat sellers targeted by the project. 

Thanks to the Community Volunteer Program, these former bush meat sellers have changed their trade into other, now legal and sustainable businesses, due to massive awareness from the FDA, LMA, and other partners in the forest sector. 

It may be recalled that following Liberian laws, it is illegal to possess, hunt, harm, eat or trade any wild animal and products of wild animals in Liberia, and it is the FDA’s duty to enforce alongside other joint security apparatus, the wildlife law. 

The Community Volunteer program was piloted with funds from the European Union in Monrovia and Paynesville from 2020 to 2022 with 34 female bushmeat sellers, and the big success of this program led to its extension across the entire country.

 Another program targeting 50 women in Monrovia and Paynesville, once more with support from the European Union under the new PROBIO project has begun. 

An overview of the program was given by the FDA Awareness and Ecotourism Officer Madam Peaches S. Cummeh and Mr. Tarik Bodasing, the project coordinator.

Accordingly, reducing poverty by creating sustainable alternative livelihoods is one of the most important ways in which to protect Liberia’s biodiversity and end the illegal wildlife trade, the Ambassador emphasized. 

The certification ceremony and awareness event in Buchanan was a collaborative program of the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund/UKAID project “Empowering local women to reduce Illegal Wildlife Trade in Liberia” and the EU-funded project “PROBIO – Protecting biodiversity through law enforcement and community-led initiatives”.