How Rangers and Local Communities Came Together to Protect Sapo National Park

How Rangers and Local Communities Came Together to Protect Sapo National Park
October 22, 2019 1:01 pm Blog

Sapo National Park is Liberia’s largest and oldest national park, stretching over 180,000 hectares and is part of the Tai-Grebo-Krahn-Sapo (TGKS) Transboundary Forest Landscape between Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire. Sapo’s magnificence as a biologically rich and diverse forest and a refuge for several endangered plants and animals are being undermined, however, by illegal mining, hunting and logging inside its borders. In response to these threats, the capacity of those in charge of protecting the park is being increased to unprecedented levels through intensified training and new patrol equipment.

The USAID-funded West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change (WA BiCC) Program is supporting Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and its partners Fauna and Flora International (FFI), Partners in Development (PADEV) and Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF) through grants to build or strengthen the capacity of rangers and local community volunteers to jointly manage the Sapo National Park. There are 65 rangers working on the frontline of conservation activities in and around the park. Through the WA BiCC grant to FFI, technical support to law enforcement has been increased and other processes needed for effective Protected Area Management have been put into place. To this end, there have been three major trainings for Sapo rangers in law enforcement best practices, the use of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and patrol planning and evaluation.

A group of people having a meeting in the field.
Rangers planning patrols.

 

Before receiving training, the rangers were patrolling the park without clear strategies or tactics and they had no data by which to evaluate their efforts and organize future patrols, which was largely due to limited capacity and resources. Now they carry out systematic patrols using a redesigned patrol data sheet that enables them to collect geo-referenced data and submit fact-based monthly reports. The rangers have been provided camping bags, back packs, sleeping beds, sleeping mats, head lamps, water bottles, GPSs and compasses, among other field equipment.

Through the grant to WCF, ten Community Watch Teams were established, comprising 100 community members from all 74 communities around the park. They were established in October 2017 after local communities expressed their desire to be actively involved in the management of the park. Since early 2018, the Community Watch Teams have been regularly patrolling with the FDA rangers, equipped with GPS units, compasses, daypacks and other basic camping equipment. They are also trained in the use of technical equipment and the completion of patrol sheets.

A group of people collecting data in the forest.
The Biomonitoring Team on patrol recording data.

 

The rangers receive additional support from a 15-member Biomonitoring Team made up mostly of former hunters from the communities. The grant provided them similar equipment as the rangers and supports three technical specialists who coordinate the biomonitoring program.

To further strengthen protection of Sapo, a 63-person Forest Resource Interim Body (FRIB) has been established to manage the eco-champions and forest guards and represent the communities’ interests when engaging the FDA and partners. The Forest Guards are tasked with patrolling the community forests around the park and providing intelligence to the rangers and the FRIB. There are also 20 eco-champions, all of whom are women, raising awareness about conservation in the 74 neighboring communities that ring the park.

As a result of the increase in capacity and coordination between these different units in the park, over a six months period:

  • 71 hunting camps were destroyed
  • 118 snare traps were removed
  • 59 pieces of bushmeat were confiscated
  • 2 guns were seized from poachers
  • 3 baby chimps were confiscated, and

4 elephant carcasses were discovered inside the park with the suspected poacher arrested based on a tip-off from a member of the FRIB.

A man in handcuffs.
Hunter arrested near the park.

 

Rifle and bullets seized from hunter.
Rifle and bullets seized from the hunter.

 

The dedication and enthusiasm of local community members, along with support from WA BiCC and its grantee partners, has turned Sapo National Park from a park in danger of losing its natural resources and biodiversity to a fully functioning protected area where, every day of the year, people are acting to maintain its for current and future generations in Liberia and the world.