February 12, 2019 4:00 pm News

Community Youth Join the Ranks to Protect the Wonegizi Forest

A major factor and critical step in successful conservation is getting people to understand and appreciate the value of biodiversity in all of its aspects. Biodiversity is a scientific concept that has many similarities to traditional conservation and respect for the living world. Therefore, another important step forward, is for all partners to reach an understanding of what values and objectives are shared, to be honest and recognize that some may differ, and define together how to move forward on those common and shared goals while respectfully recognizing differences. Thus, an even bigger step? Empowering those who depend on ‘biodiversity’ to become part of the solution.

With the understanding that no one protects a resource better than one whose lives depend on it, Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and Fauna & Flora International (FFI) are training Eco-guards to protect the many endangered and threatened plants and animals found in the Wonegizi forest landscape.

The Wonegizi mountain range
The Wonegizi mountain range is of irrepleceable critical value to human, plant, and animal life

Wonegizi Forest: A Biodiversity Hotspot at Risk

The Wonegizi forest is a proposed protected area in Liberia that shares a border with the Ziama forest in Guinea which, due to the very same biological and human significance as its Liberian neighbour, has been named a Man and the Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Around Wonegizi, nearly 2,000 people from 20 different communities depend on the forest’s resources for their livelihoods and wellbeing. Scientifically, Wonegizi’s mountain range is a high-value conservation site of global importance due to its biological diversity as well as a significant carbon stock. The landscape hosts an incredible diversity of species, many of which are endangered, including Jentik’s duiker, Diana monkey, West African red colobus, green-tailed bristlebill, and yellow-bearded greenbul. Additionally, it is one of the few sites in Liberia where vulnerable birds like the Nimba flycatcher and the white-necked rockfowl can be found. Other threatened species include the Western Chimpanzee, rare forest elephants and the pygmy hippopotamus. Vulnerable plants include species of Iron wood, Rosewood, Cola and Cedrela to name a mere few.

Diana monkey. Credit_Tailormade Africa and Yellow-bearded greenbul. Credit_Nik_Borrow
White-necked rockfowl. Credit_Adam Riley and Jentink’s Duiker. Credit_IUCN

Despite its high conservation value, the forest is plagued by activities that continue to threaten and degrade plant and animal populations as well as important functions that the forest provides, like freshwater and a buffer against erosion and floods. Threats include poaching, shifting cultivation, charcoal production, artisanal mining, legal and illegal commercial logging, in-migration and the conversion of natural forests to oil palm or rubber plantations.

Addressing the combined impacts from so many destructive activities may seem insurmountable, but Wonegizi is far from a lost cause. Interventions have been in place over the last decade to restore the forest to the biodiversity paradise it once was. The surrounding communities, considered equal and essential partners to ensure the long-term viability of Wonegizi, have negotiated with FDA an approach where 25,873 hectares of core forest will be allocated to biodiversity conservation, with 9,246 hectares of surrounding forest zoned for multiple -use including farmlands and water bodies.

The good-faith negotiations between local communities and the FDA included defining a more active role for local people on conservation activities. A recent example is the training of community members to buttress law enforcement patrols in the forest.

Participants were welcomed to the 5-day training by John Flomo, Chief Park Warden for Wonegizi

Training the Next Generation of Conservation Leaders

The Eco-guard training featured a combination of lectures, active participation, group work and intensive field work. Several topics were delved into, such as the history of forest conservation in Liberia, which helped trainees appreciate the value of the forest. Participants also examined the roles and responsibilities of law enforcement, patrol planning, bush craft, crime scene management and more during the training.

First Aid
First Aid was an important and much appreciated part of the training as FDA rangers and community Eco-guards will patrol in remote sites
Warm Ups
Community Eco-guards did some warm-ups each morning to build fitness to prepare for the demanding job of patrolling the rough terrain in Wonegizi

As a result, 24 community Eco-guards successfully completed the training and will be joining with the FDA to better protect the forest. As these young people lend a hand to the FDA, they will also receive a regular income to help sustain themselves and their families, a model that FFI has successfully employed in Liberia’s Sapo National Park.

By diversifying livelihoods and empowering young people to directly participate in the protection of their natural resources, the Eco-guard training program is paving way for future generations of conservation leaders, placing forest conservation and management firmly in the hands of those who will most closely feel the benefits.

Eco Guards
The newly trained Eco-guards who, will be supporting the FDA to protect and manage the Wonegizi forest



FDA instructors Grace Kotee, Korvah Vayanbah, John T. Smith and Jallah Johnson, with Wonegizi FDA rangers, at the 5-day law enforcement training held in Konia, Lofa County, Liberia

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