Liberia

Urgent Protection for Forest Elephants

Project Cost: $73,000

Funding Raised: $73,000

$1.56 per acre (1 acre = 43,560 sq ft)

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Considered one of Africa’s most biodiverse and threatened ecosystems, the Upper Guinean forests of Liberia support astonishing levels of endemic plant and animal life. These forests are especially rich in primate species and maintain key populations of the Western Chimpanzee, Western Red Colobus, and Diana Monkey. They also provide invaluable refuge for Forest Elephants, which are experiencing catastrophic population declines across much of their range.

With much of West Africa’s forests already lost to human development and less than 3% of remaining forests officially protected, wildlife in this biodiversity hotspot is under severe threat.

Large blocks of rainforest, however, remain intact along Liberia’s northern border with Sierra Leone. Rainforest Trust is working with local partner Society for the Conservation of Nature in Liberia (SCNL) to conserve this area by creating a new national park that will protect 219,609 acres of critical wildlife habitat.

Creation of the Gola Forest National Park is part of an international conservation plan to create one of the largest protected area complexes in West Africa. By connecting with Sierra Leone’s Gola Rainforest National Park, the reserve will be part of a new transboundary peace park protecting 395,226 acres of rainforest.

Fast Facts

Location
Gbarpolu County, western Liberia

Size
219,609 acres

Key Species
Western Chimpanzee (EN), Forest Elephant (VU), Western Red Colobus (EN), Diana Monkey (VU), Tai Toad (EN), Pygmy Hippopotamus (EN), Jentink’s Duiker (EN)

Habitat
Lowland rainforest

Threats
Oil palm plantations, diamond mining, logging and hunting

Action
Create Gola Forest National Park (GFNP)

Local Partner
Society for the Conservation of Nature in Liberia (SCNL)

Total Project Cost
$342,000

Financial Need
$73,000

Price Per Acre
$1.56

Biodiversity

The Guinean Ecoregion is internationally recognized as one of Africa’s most important biodiversity hotspots. In total, 60 IUCN Red List species occur in the area, including the Pygmy Hippopotamus (EN) and Forest Elephant (VU).

Forest Elephants depend upon remaining forest in the Guinean Ecoregion as a critical source of habitat. Facing threats from habitat loss and poaching, these highly intelligent and complex animals have suffered catastrophic population declines in recent decades. One hundred thousand elephants were illegally poached in Africa between 2010 and 2012 alone. In addition to Forest Elephants, recent surveys in the proposed park have identified 48 other large mammal species. Western Chimpanzees, Western Red Colobus Monkeys and Diana Monkeys are widespread throughout the proposed park. Three Duiker species (forest antelopes), one of them endangered, also inhabit the proposed park. Gola Forest has a rich and diverse assemblage of small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and butterfly species. The Guinean Ecoregion has been declared an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International, and over 300 avian species have been recorded in the area.

Challenges

Agricultural encroachment and illegal hunting pose serious threats to the Gola Forest and its wildlife communities.

Rainforests surrounding the proposed reserve are being felled by rural communities that depend upon agricultural economies. The need for new farmland continually drives farmers deeper into the Gola Forest. If this trend continues, some of West Africa’s most biodiverse rainforests may soon be converted into farm fields. Commercial hunters view forest animals as marketable commodities and sell bushmeat for profit in city markets. An influx of commercial hunters from surrounding areas has increased hunting activity and put additional pressures on surviving populations of threatened species. While much of Liberia’s forest has been degraded by oil palm cultivation, the Gola Forest’s remote location has so far prevented the advance of these plantations. However, it remains unclear how long its isolation can be maintained without effective conservation action on the ground.

Communities

The forest communities living around the Gola Forest National Park are amongst the poorest and most vulnerable in Liberia. Isolated from population centers and modern infrastructure, they have little or no access to education, health or agricultural services.

Establishment of the Gola Forest National Park would provide direct social benefits to approximately 50 isolated forest edge communities. Target communities have resided in the project area for several generations.

Solutions

By teaming with the Society for the Conservation of Nature in Liberia (SCNL), Rainforest Trust is working to protect 219,609 acres that will help conserve the largest remnant of the Upper Guinean Forest Ecosystem, an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot.

SCNL is committed to working with local communities to achieve lasting conservation results. Field staff will visit communities to ensure that local people are educated and involved in the consent process needed for national park designation. In addition to supporting the establishment of the park, SCNL will work to develop sustainable finance and management plans for the Gola Forest National Park. This plan will be part of a larger effort to create a transboundary peace park and protect the Greater Gola Landscape. Creation of the national park will provide a secure refuge for West Africa’s Forest Elephants while offering protection to imperiled primates and other species dependent upon Liberia’s remaining forest for their survival.