Conservation of the Pygmy Hippopotamus in the Cestos-Senkwehn Rivershed Forests of Southeastern Liberia

Liberia is home to two of the three largest remaining intact blocks of Upper Guinean rainforest, which are of incalculable biological value given the poor condition of the forests in the remainder of West Africa. Only in Liberia are the forests largely in good condition. They comprise an estimated 43% of the remaining Upper Guinean Rainforest and are a reminder of what was once a vast forest stretching from Ghana to Sierra Leone.

Alexander Peal has dedicated his life to Liberia’s forests. After training in forestry and wildlife management in the 1960s, his first career was in sport as a goalie for the Liberian National football team. This gained him a high profile as a soccer star which he has used ever since to raise awareness of conservation issues in his country.

In the early 1970′s he joined the Liberian Bureau of Forestry and Wildlife Conservation. When the Bureau became the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) in 1976, Alex organised and led the Section for Wildlife and National Parks until 1990 after the civil war had broken out. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Sapo National Park, Liberia’s only National Park. As a result of his work, Liberia ratified the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species, and, in 2000, ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity.

In 1986, he co-founded the Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia (SCNL), Liberia’s first and only NGO dedicated to conserving the country’s spectacular biodiversity which he led until 1990 when war broke out and he was forced into hiding. He later went to Southern California where he remained until 1998 when he returned to resume active leadership of SCNL and to restart conservation in post-war Liberia. Even before hostilities ceased he made several trips to Liberia to reactivate SCNL and in early 1997, just weeks after the end of the war, he led an expedition to inspect the condition of the Sapo National Park, under protection of a UN peacekeeping force.

Liberia’s forests harbour many endemic species and many more that are nearly extinct outside the country. Notable animal species include the only remaining viable populations of the Pygmy hippopotamus, Jentink’s Duiker, the Zebra Duiker and the Liberian mongoose. Most of Liberia’s forests have never been surveyed by scientists, and the majority of what is known would not have been possible without the work of Alexander Peal.

Today, the forests are under immense threat from logging by foreign and national companies, as well as from subsistence farmers returning to their farms and hunters in areas newly opened by logging. If unchecked, this double attack on Liberia’s forest resources, for both commercial and subsistence purposes, will ensure that Liberia follows in its neighbour’s footsteps, reducing its forests largely to degraded pasture with remnant patches seldom large enough to ensure the survival of its component fauna and flora.

Following winning his Whitley Award in 2001, and the Goldman Prize in 2000, Alex went on to implement an important project aimed at studying the Pygmy Hippopotamus and its rainforest habitat. Little is known about this animal and Alex spearheaded a popular public awareness campaign featuring the pygmy hippo as a national flagship species for conservation of Liberia’s forests.

Alexander Peal’s incessant activity and awareness-raising work in Liberia continues and today he is Director of Conservation International, Liberia.

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