The chairman of the Governance Commission (GC), Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, officially launched the country’s first Wildlife Sanctuary on Saturday at Libassa Ecolodge in Marshall, Lower Margibi County to preserve the country’s wildlife species, including the much consumed ‘bush-meat’ and pets.
Dr. Sawyer lauded the management of Libassa Ecolodge for ‘such a wonderful innovation’ that grew out of its passion to protect wildlife.
He challenged government officials, especially those in the extractive industry, to “think more innovatively.”
“There is no need to strangulate the private sector only because one does not want it to grow. The partnership between the government, civil society, NGOs and the private sector should always be win, win and win. I would like to take this time to congratulate the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) for building from strength to strength,” Dr. Sawyer said.
In a special welcome remark, both Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph Antoune described the sanctuary as a realization of their dream.
They said the dream began eight years ago when Libassa Ecolodge was under construction; and it was their love of nature and wildlife that pushed them into this adventure. “At that time, we found it unacceptable to see wildlife sold on the streets of Monrovia as pets and others as bush-meat,” they said.
“We realized that this was not only our fight, but the fight of the entire nation. It was not hard to find people with goodwill who also wanted to fight along with us. This is how we teamed up with the Society for Conservation of Nature in Liberia (SCNL) and the FDA.”
After many months of dedicated work, Mr. and Mrs. Antoune were proud to announce that they were succeeding. “In our presentation, you will hear about our challenges and our successes. We are not at the end, rather only at the beginning, as there is more to be done.”
Expressing hope that the sanctuary will inspire others to lend a hand to the conservation of nature and wildlife in Liberia, the couple noted that the fight is very long and difficult, “but will be won.”
The FDA’s Managing Director, Darlington Tuagban, said the new Wildlife and Protected Areas Management Law, among other things, aims to maintain, protect and preserve wildlife as a national heritage as well as addressing wildlife and their habitats.
Mr. Tuagban noted that the law also includes the management and protection of wild animals through the use of appropriate and internationally accepted best practices (such as the establishment of the newly launched wildlife sanctuary). He further encouraged stakeholder participation in wildlife related decision making and its economic benefits.
He said: “Implementation of this unique instrument has just begun with the creation of awareness at all levels in order to sensitize communities and would-be affected stakeholders of the importance of working with the FDA and Liberian government in the utilization of wildlife and wildlife products.”
The manager of the sanctuary, Madam Julie Vaanassche, underscored the need for people (Liberians and foreign nationals) to volunteer their services to provide care for the animals. “We need people to observe and monitor the animals at the sanctuary, and also after they are released. Scientists and students can use tracking devices when releasing animals to collect valuable data that can be used in scientific research.
“Visiting the sanctuary is free for children. Later, I will also give people the opportunity to sponsor an enclosure or they can virtually adopt one of the animals in our care by donating a certain amount of money every month,” Madam Vanassche said.
As part of the event, scores of people were taken on a guided tour of the sanctuary by Madam Vanassche. The occasion was attended by high profile government officials, foreign diplomats, educators, students and tourists, among others.
Last Saturday’s event was made possible through the sponsorship of Liberia Coca Cola Bottling Company, Champion Design, Harbel Supermarket and the host, Libassa Ecolodge.
The Libassa Ecolodge Wildlife Sanctuary is a first of its kind in Liberia. It is the fruit of a partnership between Libassa Ecolodge, FDA and SCNL.
The sanctuary will provide care and give support to confiscated wild animals kept as pets or destined to be consumed as ‘bush-meat’; release confiscated wild animals back to the wild whenever possible; encourage volunteer participation in nature work; train students and communities on wildlife protection; and introduce behavioral study among others.