Liberia: Sapo National Park Unveils ‘Luxury’ Ecolodge

The ecolodge is located right over the Sinoe River at the edge of Sapo National Park, an area that gives a magnificent view for visitors to enjoy nature. 

The Wild Chimpanzee Foundation and the Forestry Development Authority have partnered to open a new ecolodge in the buffer zone of the Sapo National Park in Sinoe County.

The ecolodge is located right over the Sinoe River at the edge of Sapo National Park, an area that gives a magnificent view for visitors to enjoy nature. 

The new Sapo ecolodge consists of three self-contained chalets, two platforms for tents, a dining area, and two separate bathrooms. It is ecotourism that is expected to create substantial benefits for local communities and serve as a model for community-based ecotourism that could be replicated across Liberia and beyond. 

The Sapo National Park in Sinoe County, southeastern Liberia, covers an area of 1,804 km² (697 sq miles). It is the country's largest protected area of rainforest. Included in its boundaries is the second largest area of primary tropical rainforest in West Africa, after Taï National Park in neighboring Côte d'Ivoire.

Located in Liberia’s least densely populated province, it is home to one of the most intact forest ecosystems in the nation. It is within the Upper Guinea forest ecosystem, a biodiverse region hosting the "highest mammal species diversity of any region in the world," according to Conservation International. The park lies within the Western Guinean lowland forests ecoregion according to the World Wide Fund for Nature's ecoregions classification scheme.

Its flat and marshy topography supports a large area of uninhabited forest. Its southeastern area has lower elevations of approximately 100 m (328 ft) and gentle hills, while there are elevations of about 400 m (1,312 ft) and steep ridges in the north. There are many small streams and rivers between these ridges. Sinoe River is the largest river in the park. Mount Putu's 640 m (2,100 ft) summit forms the park's highest elevation.

The climate is tropical, with temperatures ranging between 22–28 °C (72–82 °F). The forest's average relative humidity is 91 percent. Annual precipitation at Basintown, 4 km (2 mi) south of the park's headquarters, averaged 2,596 mm (100 in) in the 1980s. 

The park also has one of the richest amounts of floral species in the country, with numerous endemic species, and is the center of endemism and biodiversity, at one time hosting around 125 mammal species and 590 types of bird, including a number of threatened species, such as the African Golden Cat, Drill, Gola Malimbe, Liberian Mongoose, White-breasted Guineafowl, and White-necked Rockfowl.

The park is also home to the African Civet, African Fish Eagle, African Grey Parrot, Giant Forest Hog, Great Blue Turaco, Speckle-throated Otter, water chevrotain, three species of pangolin, seven species of monkey (including the endangered Diana Monkey, crocodiles, leopards, bee-eaters, egrets, hornbills, kingfishers, rollers, and sunbirds. This information is being provided by the New World Encyclopedia.

The new project, according to an FDA and its partner, the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF),  is aimed at formally preparing the park to receive tourists, while a co-management structure is being set up to pave the way for a larger opening in early 2022 to promote conservation and community-based ecotourism in Liberia.

Meanwhile, Dr. Christophe Boesch, President of the WCF has disclosed that developing the Sapo Ecolodge brings a visible sign for jobs to the communities and sustainably manages the forest.

Dr. Boesch, whose organization is willing to create more Ecolodges in Liberia to attract tourists to the forests, had worked for 42 years in West Africa, beginning in Côte d’Ivoire. And after creating the WCF in 2000, he shifted his focus to protect African forests to save chimpanzees.  The WCF then began to lobby for chimpanzees protection in Liberia and in 2017, an effort that yielded fruit with the creation of the Grebo-Krahn National Park, which lies between Grand Gedeh and River Gee counties. A 6,500 km2 park was also created in Guinea with over 5,000 chimpanzees therein.

Currently, there is a proposed Krahn-Bassa National Park coming up in Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, and Rivercess Counties, and WCF will be working with stakeholders through the FDA to establish this park soon.

At the opening of the ecolodge, the communities members living near the park termed the development as a medium through which jobs will be created, leading to more safe and effective management of the park. Expressing their gratitude to the WCF and FDA, the community representatives in separate views said since the 1980s till now no development of such has taken place in their county, and seeing this beautiful Sapo Ecolodge in the forest is very welcoming. 

“They then pledged their fullest support to work with the WCF through the FDA in Sinoe to protect and maintain the Sapo Ecolodge. The citizens also expressed the hope that more of such a lodge can be built to attract many tourists to visit the Sapo National Park.”

The Sapo National Park has over the years been a hot spot for illegal mining and hunting. As the Sapo Ecolodge is dedicated, the citizens are sending out a strong warning to the illegal miners to vacate the area or face other actions including legal actions. 

In a remark, FDA Managing Director C. Mike Doryen lauded the people of Sinoe County for keeping their forest, which is more than two hundred years safe, and that it is about to bring investors that will benefit them.

He added that maintaining the forest making up the Sapo National Park is one major approach to compliance to the regulation of mitigating Climate Change, and the effort made by WCF to build the Sapo Ecolodge will bring a lot of tourists and investors that will increase revenue to be shared among communities around the park.

“The Sapo park is one of the best in the world and an ideal place for tourists to visit. Now with this Sapo Ecolodge, it will entice tourists so that they will not leave easily when they come here. As the world expresses a high degree of interest in mitigating climate change, Liberia is one country among the list of countries strongly supporting the program in terms of forest conservation in West Africa. 

Meanwhile, the FDA boss has called on the park communities to avoid violence and lawlessness that will scare tourists and investors.

The construction of the park came via funding received by WCF received from the German Foundation “Rainforest Rescue,” which also involves the training of local community members to help run the Ecolodge and serve as tourists guides.

 The design and construction of the Sapo Ecolodge were done by Libassa Ecolodge, which has developed a strong partnership with WCF and FDA.  It was opened on December 11, in Jalay Town, bringing together the FDA, WCF, local authorities, communities, and partner Fauna & Flora International, and others.