Liberia as Home to the Second Largest Chimpanzee Population in West Africa and Biodiversity hotspot

14 Giu

When Liberia enters the news it is usually in the context of civil war, epidemic, economic crisis, poverty or a disease outbreak such as the recent past emergence of Ebola in West Africa.

Liberia’s status as a biodiversity hotspot and the fact that it is home to some of the last viable and threatened wildlife population in West Africa has received little attention in the past. This is partly because of the many years of violent conflict in the country. From 1989 to 2003 thwarted efforts of biologists to conduct biological surveys. Recently a research team including scientist of the Max Planck Institute for Evolution Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now counted Chimpanzee and other large mammals living in Liberia as precious and rare among the sort for.

The recent census revealed that Liberia is home to 7000 chimpanzees and therefore to the second largest population of the western subspecies of Chimpanzees. For these reason and news, Liberia has released a huge acre of land for deforestation and the effective protection and study of these rare chimpanzees.

Following the war-time collapse of economy, the accurate biological datasets on the distribution and abundance of wildlife populations are key to making evidence-based management decisions that balances economic and conservation priorities. In addition, datasets are important for locating and delineating conservation priority areas, making assessments of anthropogenic threats, and proposing mitigation measures to policy-makers. Further in closing the data gap, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire and the Royal Society for the protection of Birds in Bedfordshire, UK via Across the River Project in Liberia together with experienced Liberia Rangers from the Liberia Forestry Development Authority and team research assistants from Liberia and Sierra Leone and graduate students of the University of Liberia [Forestry and Animal Science department] embarked on this remarkably ambitious project; a survey of Chimpanzees and other large mammals across the entire country for rigorous two years.

The survey teams searched for the presence of Chimpanzees and other large mammals in more than 100 locations throughout Liberia. Speaking for the project, corresponding author Jessica Junker, said “this project was logistically challenged” who also supervised all data collection in the field, “to reach all these locations, we occasionally had to drive for two days bracing terrible roads and jungle quad crosses, then continue on motorbikes for several hours of riding, before embarking on a 20 to 30 kilometers hike, during which we sometimes had to cross rivers, terrible ponds /swamps with deadly creatures like crocodiles, climb mountains and pass through steep valleys

Speaking to African Voices, Ms. Junker smooth it off with a smile that “…the effort paid off ” With an estimated population of more than 7000 individuals chimpanzees, Liberia now officially holds the second largest population of West African Chimpanzee after Guinea, Even more excitingly for conservation, due to its relatively wide and continuous distribution within the country, chimpanzees population of Liberia is also probably one of the most viable Chimpanzees population in west Africa making it a regional conservation priority.

Surprisingly however, the survey results showed that more than 70% of the Chimpanzees as well as some of the most species-diverse communities of large mammals occurred outside the fully-protected areas, which currently include 3.8 percent of the country’s forests. In 2003, the Liberian government agreed to increase the extent of the protected areas network to conserve at least 30 percent of the country’s forests. “The result of our study provides crucial information for the site prioritization and selection in the ongoing process” says the lead author Clement Tweh of the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation in Liberia.
For example, the shape and location of some of the proposed protected areas might have to be reconsidered. Also it would be necessary to rapidly implement full protection status of Liberia for the proposed conservation priority areas as future Mining.

 

Jacob Egan Bright
African Voices, Liberia

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