Our Biodiversity, Our Future: Liberia Marks World Biodiversity Day 2019 to Draw Attention to the Threat of Illegal Wildlife Trade

Our Biodiversity, Our Future: Liberia Marks World Biodiversity Day 2019 to Draw Attention to the Threat of Illegal Wildlife Trade
May 22, 2019 12:58 pm Blog

Liberia is on track to losing significant populations of its wildlife and stands a risk of having some of its critically endangered species being completely wiped out in ten years if no action is taken. Mama Liberia is blessed with the largest remaining portion (42%) of the Upper Guinea rainforest; a forest that runs through Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo. Our forests are exceptionally diverse with thousands of plant and animal species, many found nowhere else in the world. However, her biodiversity is greatly suffering, especially from hunting for the bushmeat trade. Consequently, conservation partners in Liberia including the Government and USAID-funded projects under the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change Program, join the rest of the world to mark the International Day of Biological Diversity under the national theme: ‘Our Biodiversity, Our Future’. The global theme is ‘Our Biodiversity, Our Food, Our Health’.

After habitat loss, the most immediate threat to many threatened species is large-scale poaching. The illegal wildlife trade in Africa has an estimated value of $7 – $10 billion per year, making it an extremely lucrative business, second only to narcotics, human trafficking, oil and counterfeiting (EAGLE, 2019). Indeed these illicit businesses often go hand in hand. The African elephant, great apes and other species are not only at risk because we destroy their homes by clearing forests for development, logging and agriculture, but also because of illegal hunting (poaching) and organized trafficking are reducing wildlife populations at an unprecedented rate. At current levels of exploitation, our children and grandchildren will not be able to see many of the wonderful animals that are a key part of our culture and tradition.

The Western chimpanzee, for instance, is now protected by law in Liberia and is classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This means the species is at an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. Currently, there are 42 chimpanzees in the care of the organization – Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection (LCRP). These chimpanzees are usually orphans that were being kept or sold illegally and so got confiscated by Liberia’s wildlife authorities. To get a baby chimpanzee away from his/her mother, the mother and other family members have to be killed. An estimated 10 adult chimpanzees will be killed at any one time. When you see one baby chimpanzee in the street, he/she represents 10 chimpanzees killed in the wild. The 42 orphans at LCRP indicate over 400 of the only 7000 chimpanzees left in Liberia are now gone forever, victims of the bushmeat and pet trades in just a few short years! Based on confiscation figures in the first quarter of 2019 and assuming that figure is low (accounting for undetected chimpanzees killed or being sold), Liberia is on its way to losing an estimated 600 adult chimpanzees every year making our population at a very real risk of being wiped out in the next 10 years. Unless we start respecting the law, and stop hunting chimpanzees for bushmeat and selling their babies for pets, our unborn children will only see them in books or in films.

A picture of a baby chimpanzee held by a rope.
An infant chimpanzee on sale at the bushmeat market. Photo credit: Ian Redmond, Born Free Foundation


The forest elephant and all species of pangolins are also protected by the law in Liberia, yet six elephants (that we know of) have been killed in Liberia already since January! Pangolins – the most highly trafficked mammal in the world – are subject to widespread hunting for bushmeat and traditional, but unproven medicines. Liberia has 3 species of pangolin, all listed as threatened and we continue to see them every day being sold as bushmeat in our capital city.

A picture of carved products made from elephant ivory.
Elephants are slaughtered each day just for their ivory. Photo credit: Conservation Justice


A pangolin in the wild.
Pangolins are the most trafficked mammals in the world, with high demand for their scales and meat in parts of Africa and Asia. Photo Credit: US Embassy Ghana


Liberian wildlife, dead and alive, is also sold over our borders into places like Sierra Leone and Côte D’Ivoire and even internationally to countries like China and the Middle East. Ivory is sold for decoration, chimpanzees for entertainment, shells and body parts for jewellery. One of the products highest in demand is pangolin scales for health purposes, even though there is no scientific evidence showing they are in any way effective as a treatment. How much longer will these species survive in Liberia?

As Liberia marks the International Day of Biodiversity (May 22, 2019) in Monrovia, Government authorities including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Forestry Development Authority are expected to make statements as a sign of their commitment to biodiversity conservation. Death is a part of life. It comes to us all. But extinction – that is something else. Extinction means all the individuals of a species have died and we will not see that species ever again. Never ever! It also means the important role they play in the ecosystem is also lost; meanwhile, humanity’s very existence is dependent on the survival of these wildlife species.

Top and bottom left: A chimpanzee mascot leading a parade of people.Top and bottom right: 2 actors doing a drama sketch.
Parade and drama performances at the Biodiversity Day celebration in Paynesville, Liberia.


UN Secretary-General on the meaning of biodiversity to humans.


Written by Wing Crawley (FFI), Jenny Desmond (LCRP) and Shadrach Kerwillain (FFI)


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