30.06.20 – Emergency field trip to Gola Konneh
With onset of the rainy season elephants start to leave the deep forest sites and spread out over larger areas. That’s the time when Human-Elephant-Conflicts (HEC) increase. Especially the remaining potential elephant habitats outside of Protected Areas are progressively reduced and fragmented by human activities such as slash-and-burn for agriculture. Moreover, the rainy season is the harvesting time for a number of crops such as corn, rice and cassava, causing elephants to enter the farms and “enjoy the rich buffet”. Mostly affected are farms far away from settlements and close to the margins of remaining elephant habitats, but sometimes elephants do also come closer to the villages and even enter them.
This happened recently in Gola Konneh District, which is located at the western end of the northern forest block, adjacent to Gola National Park. Mid of May we received several phone calls of agitated villagers, telling us that elephants roam around in the surrounding farms and occasionally enter the villages by night. Together with our national partner FDA we quickly set up an emergency field team and, under observance of the national COVID 19 regulations, managed to organize an emergency field trip to Gola Konneh, where we held several meetings with affected farmers and also visited disturbed farms.
HEC are a common problem in all countries where human activities overlap with elephant habitats. In some areas they have been very well studied over years, and today a toolkit of effective HEC mitigation measures is available, listing a number of useful methods including so called community-based mitigation measures (CBMM), which are cheap, simple and more or less instantly applicable by the local communities without heavily depending on external technical assistance and funding. In Liberia there is still a big need for awareness and training in such HEC mitigation measures. Our field mission showed that people in Gola Konneh do not know much about possible mitigation measures other than fire and noise, which they also do not consequently apply, but usually stay passive. Understandably, most people feel scared, desperate and absolutely powerless, which often results in hatred against elephants and the belief that the only solution would be to kill problem elephants. This needs to be urgently addressed, first of all by the introduction of CBMM such as collectively guarding farms and using common deterrents like noise, flashlights and burning chili bricks. During our visit, we conducted a crash course for farmers in non-hazardous effective short-term measures for instant help, which according to their subsequent reports so far helped to keep elephants away from their villages. A more intense and comprehensive training for Gola Konneh and other communities is planned to take place later in the year. In the long-term, however, the underlying direct drivers for HEC such as the progressive human encroachment of elephant habitats have to be tackled, for example by the development and implementation of strategic land use plans.
Update on COVID 19 and our work in Liberia
In Liberia the first official Corona case occurred mid of March 2020; so far the infection rate is comparably moderate and mostly limited to the capital Monrovia, while the countryside is not so much affected yet. Liberia is one of the countries that was most seriously hit by the Ebola crisis in 2014 and thus very familiar with handling situations such as under the current COVID 19 pandemic. Luckily, the national regulations put in place so far did not affect our work too much, i.e. we could continue operating, with some limitations though (e.g. big awareness events had to be cancelled). Generally, COVID 19 certainly is a huge challenge for overall wildlife conservation, be it because running projects have to be interrupted or because potential donors shift funding priorities and cut down expected budgets. We deeply hope that COVID 19 will not seriously jeopardize elephant conservation, be it in Liberia or other countries, and tirelessly will continue our work.
31.03.20 – Taking Stock
We spent the bygone dry season, from November to February, almost exclusively in the forest to continue our field surveys. Now we have covered two third of the northwestern forest block and it is time to take stock.
Fortunately, we found elephant signs in nearly all predicted areas, and assume that there are at least five subpopulations roaming in the Northwest. They all show a healthy population structure in terms of age and size class distribution, which corresponds to the expectable natural population structure of a long-living and slow-reproducing species. The core habitats of these five groups in part lie within Protected and Proposed Protected Areas, stressing once again the need for the conservation of those important forests.
Another main result is the analysis of the Forest Elephant’s migration patterns, which are dominated by the seasonal availability of food and water resources, but also influenced by the degree of human impacts. In general elephants spread out more in the rainy season, while in the dry season they seem to stay deeper inside the forests.
The major direct threats to Forest Elephants in the NW Forest Block are human encroachment and disturbance of elephant habitats, such as slash-and-burn agriculture, mining and logging, which in certain areas lead to Human-Elephant-Conflicts, such as crop-raiding incidents. Especially in places where farms are built closer and closer to elephant habitats, conflicts are predestined. In some of the affected communities our Elephant Guards are already in operation and brief the communities in effective community-based Human-Elephant-Conflict mitigation measures.
24.10.2019 - Training of Elephant Guards
In October we carried out a training program to enhance the in-country capacity for elephant conservation in Liberia. Seven representatives of the Conservation Department of the Forestry Development Authority, as well as eight local people from four different elephant range communities were trained in Wildlife Conservation Basics, Forest Elephant Behavioural Ecology, Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigation and a standardized Elephant Data Recording Protocol.
The trained “Elephant Guards“ are now continuously providing ELRECO with important first-hand information on the Forest Elephant activities in their remote areas, which allows us to immediately react, for example in case of Human-Elephant conflicts. The ongoing data collection by our field personnel further marks the beginning of a long-term elephant monitoring programme, another milestone on the way to effective elephant protection in Liberia.
12.08.2019 - World Elephant Day, Radioshow, Newspaper
Newspaper article 12.08.2019:
Liberia today joins the global village in observance of the International Elephant Day. The celebrations, first of its kind in Liberia is jointly organized by the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and the lead partner, Elephant Research and Conservation (ELRECO) with the distribution of promotional awareness materials as well as flyers and posters, the hosting of radio talk show on the education and importance of the Day, among others.
The global celebration is among other things geared towards bringing the world together to know the threats and importance of protecting forest elephants.
Dr. Vogt used the occasion to call on all Liberians and residents alike to sign unto a petition pledging their respective support to the survival and protection of elephants nationwide and on the continent of Africa at large.
Speaking to our reporter Monday the technical director of the Elephant Research and Conservation Dr. Tina Vogt stressed the need to protect forest elephants for the benefit of the Country.
Dr. Vogt she and her colleague, Bernhard Forster began to work in Liberia in 2010 on supporting initiatives of forest conservation but later on saw the crucial need to engage into meaningful activities to help elephants conservation which she noted is very key to the conservation sector.
Currently she told our reporter that there is a nationwide survey ongoing in North-Western forest block of Liberia to update the Country on where elephants are including the number of elephants, something Dr. Vogt noted when completed will help relevant stakeholders in making an informed decision for further conservation measures.
She at the same time called for more awareness on the protection of elephants nationwide.
Dr. Vogt who named some of the benefits of elephants as: soil fertilization, core habitat protection and maintenance, the clearing of roads for other animal passage including the creation of water and mineral holes for other purposes and many others.
She however pointed out some of the threats that include: Habitat destruction and fragmentation, population growth, illegal killing and hunting of elephants and many more something she added are still big challenges that they are working on to address gradually.
Additionally, she indicated that they are also developing methods to help in mitigating conflicts as well under their respective 10-year plan.
The ELRECO technical boss discouraged Liberians from engaging into wildlife crimes.
She encouraged local residents to always channel their issues through the FDA in a drive to help solve it.
The Chief Executive Officer of Elephants Research and Conservation Bernhard Forster said they are working in about eight communities to effectively create the necessary awareness aimed at mitigating the problems.
He wants Liberia through its people to play a very important role in the survival of forest elephants.
Bernhard said they are working -and are equally concerned about co-existence rather than conflict in addressing the issues affecting the growth process in elephant conservation.
He then praised the FDA for its impressive and collaborative working relationship with ELRECO something he termed as been very impressive.
He pledged his entity’s commitment to abide by all necessary regulations as well as the laws of Liberia in promoting the sector.
The ELRECO CEO said he is confident that upon the completion of their ongoing surveys he hopes of positive outcomes that will help mitigate some of the challenges facing elephant conservation in Liberia.
He said as part of their ten years National Elephants Action Plan (NEAP) they will endeavour to implement a comprehensive capacity-building program including to ensure that identified elephants populations are protected as well as asses the current status and distribution of elephants through a national baseline survey.
At the same time the Wildlife manager of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) Abednego Gbarway commended rural community dwellers for working with the FDA to ensure the protection of the forest.
Mr. Gbarway said as a result of the community’s involvement they are able to under the law have 30% of forest protected in Liberia in the future.
Currently there five Protected Areas in Liberia which comprise ca. 13% of the total forest cover, he named as: The Sapo National Park, Grebo-Krahn National Park, Nimba Reserve, Gola Forest, Lake Piso and the reserved Wonegizi.
The Wildlife manager of FDA said elephants are vulnerable but was also quick to add that it is equally and totally forbidden under the Laws of Liberia to kill it.
Hunting, vegetation-clearing and mining among others are threats to the wildlife something he noted should be discouraged mainly among the rural inhabitants.
In Africa there are two types of elephants namely: Savannah Elephant and Forest Elephant respectively.
In Liberia occurs the Forest Elephant and it is as well by law protected meaning no one under the law should hunt, kill, eat, capture, possess or sell an elephant or any elephant body parts something that is up till press time a serious challenge.
It can be recalled that wildlife conservation in Liberia began in the 1980’s and since then made considerable progress to include the adaptation of the wildlife conservation law, designation of protected areas as well as endorsement of the national species action plan and many others.
The World Elephant Day is an international event annually celebrated on August 12, dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world’s elephants.
It was established on August 12, 2012 by the Canadian filmmaker Patricia Sims and the elephant reintroduction foundation of Thailand.
The goal of the international elephant day is to create awareness of the urgent plight of African and Asian elephants and to share knowledge and positive solutions for the better care and management of captive and wild elephants.
20.06.2019 - First Map, Analysis, Planning
After five months of fieldwork we are ready to carry out the first analysis of the collected survey data. For us that’s very exciting times. The analysis will help to verify our first fieldwork impressions and give us a better understanding of the Forest Elephants’ spatial distribution, relative abundance and potential migration routes in the north-west of Liberia. In 2019 we will conduct one more fieldtrip, and then will have surveyed more than 50% of the northern forest block.
01.05.2019 - Breakdowns, Lessons and new Friends
The rainy season is approaching and the first downpours already caused the typical traffic chaos – nothing extraordinary but just normal in Liberia. Eventually one always gets along somehow, just needs a little bit patience. On our last trip we were also facing some challenges – one time our car got stuck in a bridge, another time the breaks failed. No problem at all however for our experienced driver! Having finally reached our destination we carried out awareness programmes about Forest Elephants in several schools and communities and made many new friends.
01.04.2019 Measuring, Sampling and Footprints
Let’s go on our next elephant survey! Destination: the county Lofa in the extreme Northwest of Liberia, bordering Sierra Leone. Here we instantly found a lot of fresh elephant signs. Data recording includes the measurement of footprints – the circumference of the forefoot corresponds approximately to half of the elephant’s shoulder height – as well as the collection of dung samples for genetic analysis. Elephants however also leave other signs such as stripped tree bark, bended branches and chafe marks on tree trunks which also give a good indication of the elephant’s body size.
27.12.2018 - Into the jungle
Since the foundation of ELRECO in July 2017 we were mainly busy with proposal writing and potential donor acquisition to finance the fieldwork in Liberia. Thanks to the donation from several private sponsors as well as our main sponsor Born Free and a close collaboration with Fauna and Flora International we were able to start our first expedition into the challenging forest block of Wologizi in the north-west of Liberia. Together with local guides we crossed high mountains and the rapids of Lofa River to penetrate into the heart of Wologizi where the grey giants were supposed to still occur today. The two weeks trip was worth all the exertions as we could proof that a relative large number of Forest elephants are still living in this area. More detailed studies will be necessary to get a better understanding of their abundance, spatial distribution and migration routes. Beginning January 2019 we will undertake another expedition into a different area in north-western Liberia that is also supposed to still hold Forest Elephants. Just visit the NEWS regularly to check for updates on our mission.