FDA Says Illegal Activities Persist in Sapo National Park

JALAY TOWN, Sinoe – Illegal activities continue to plague Sapo National Park, Liberia’s largest protected area, despite a government ban imposed in 2023.

The Forestry Development Authority has confirmed that illegal hunting, poaching of endangered species, and unauthorized mining activities persist within the park, posing a significant threat to its biodiversity and conservation efforts.

The park is home to diverse flora and fauna, including endangered species such as pygmy hippos, forest elephants, and various primate species. Established in 1983 to protect this unique ecosystem, illegal activities have been a persistent challenge in the park.

The FDA’s communication manager, Shelton Gonkerwon, said that despite efforts to root out these illegal activities, the problem persists. He expressed concern over their impact on the park’s biodiversity and the effectiveness of conservation efforts.

Gonkerwon said the new FDA managing director had visited the park and promised that the agency would soon begin taking actions to address the illegal activities.

In July 2023, the agency, in collaboration with the southeastern traditional council, announced an entry restriction, declared the park a no-go zone, and threatened action against violators. However, weak enforcement has meant that illegal users, including non-Liberians, are reportedly influencing nearby community residents to gain access to the park.

A retired chief park warden, Burton Kawah, blamed the increased illegal activities in the park on low enforcement due to low manpower or people serving as rangers working to safeguard the park. He said more should be done to observe the park’s intended purpose as a conservation hotspot.

“Manpower business is a major issue,” Kawah said. “Currently, the park rangers are under 50, knowing that the park is Liberia’s oldest national park with over 1,804 square miles.”

He recommends the deployment of armed security personnel to safeguard the national heritage site.

In an interview, Sinoe’s National Traditional Council chair, Emmanuel Wesseh, attested to the growing trespasses in the park and noted their negative impact on conservation.

Wesseh, who mobilized support from traditional chiefs to clear the park in July 2023, said the traditional council had recommended 200 men to provide backup to FDA forest rangers. However, Wesseh said the agency has not moved on hiring the men.

“My team and I recommended that it was important to set up a monitoring team to back up the FDA rangers,” he said. “But since we made the recommendation, there has not been any response from them.”

Some residents have, however, blamed individuals at the Ministry of Mines and Energy for issuing mining licenses in the park.

Esther Garteh, the women’s leader of Charlie town in Upper Wedjah, which lies within the protected area, wants the Mines and Energy Ministry to institute new measures to strengthen control against illegal mining activities in protected areas.

“While it true that the Ministry of Mines and Energy is generating revenues for [the] government as a sector, measures of prevention and control for [us] as affected communities, especially surrounding the national park, should be considered,” she told The Bush Chicken.

Habitat loss, pollution, over-exploitation, invasive species, and climate change are potential threats to bio-diversity hotspots like the Sapo National Park.

The National Forestry Reform Law, enacted in 2006, enhances the assurance of sustainable management, conservation, protection, and development of Liberia’s rainforest.

Featured photo by Teahwleh Clarke Geeplay

Teahwleh Clarke Geeplay

Teahwleh Clarke Geeplay started his journalism career at the Elizer Davis George Memorial Baptist School in Greenville, Sinoe as a press club reporter in 2012. He currently serves as Farbric Radio’s county correspondent for Sinoe and is the vice president of the Sinoe Journalist Association. He works for Liberty FM as a station manager.

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