A Glimpse of the Pygmy Hippopotamus in 2015 in Sapo National Park

by James Gbeaduh and Clara Cassell

Pygmy Hippo in the Sapo National Park – 03/06/2015 22:52:32

The local Kwa people call it the Neigben, based on their word for water Nei and cow Gben. This rare and nocturnal mammal, however, is known to scientists as a Pygmy Hippopotamus or pygmy hippo. As you may have guessed from its name, the pygmy hippo is related to the Hippopotamus, being the only other living member of the family Hippopotamidae. Pygmy hippos once ranged all over the wet lowland primary forests of the Upper Guinea Forest hotspot, but it is currently found only in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Cote d’Ivoire. The Sapo National Park is one such protected area, and the pygmy hippo is distinguished from other inhabitants of Sapo because it is listed as Endangered by the IUCN and because it is so rarely seen.

Pygmy hippo populations are declining, and continue to do so in response to pressures from humans in the form of hunting, farming, habitat destruction (fragmentation, logging) and settlement. Its range continues to shrink. Estimates of the pygmy hippo populations may be suspect, however, because it is very reclusive and therefore difficult to study. Little is known about its ecology in the wild, and in the Sapo National Park, where it is often hunted illegally, the animal is even more cautious. This scarcity has led many to question whether the pygmy hippo still exists in the Sapo National Park.

The study in 2015 answered this question anew by providing visual evidence of the animal’s existence. Twenty-four cameras were set up in the park, set close to the ground to ensure capture of the pygmy hippo, which stands below 3 feet at its highest point. The camera traps were set in a standard gps grid 2km away from each other in places where the first footage of pygmy hippos was captured in 2011. Sixty-two transects were surveyed, but no pygmy hippos were seen though pygmy hippo signs were seen on 11 of these transects. Four of the cameras captured images of pygmy hippos, with a total of 178 photos captured. The camera traps and transect-walks show that pygmy hippo populations are concentrated in the south-western part of Sapo. Many signs of human activities were also noted, especially signs of hunting such as gun shells and boot tracks.

This study shows that the Pygmy Hippopotamus remains in the Sapo National Park, but too, that they are still suspect to the threats posed by anthropogenic activities, most prominently hunting, but also logging and mining. Law enforcement needs to be strengthened in the south-west, as well as the other parts of Sapo National Park in order to ensure the security of the Pygmy Hippos, in one of the last areas where it exists in the wild. Continued camera trapping can be used to monitor the population of this rather reclusive mammal.

Faunal species at Sapo National Park

There has been more fauna discovery across the globe. These discoveries have enabled us to appreciate the biological diversity of our planet. For an informative purpose, we will be discussing fauna using Liberia to be precise, Sapo National Park as a case study.

Fauna can be defined as the life of animal species that can be found within a particular environment. The national park of Liberia which is Sapo is no exception. It serves as an in-situ habitat for most animals. The below species represent some of those ones that have been seen in the park.

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Ogilby’s duiker is an elusive species that  has a sturdy body, a covered back, overdeveloped hindquarters, and short legs. Duiker comes from an African word which means”diver”. Ecologically, it plays an important role in the forest as a seed disperser. It is one of the faunas that are of least concern.

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Agelaste meleagrides is a terrestrial bird, of the Guineafowl family that can be found in the national park and other parts of the country. It has an uncovered red head, bare upper neck, white breast, black long tail & grayish feet. This faunal species was spotted in the exceptional biodiversity of Sapo National Park.





History of faunal research in Liberia

History of faunal research in Liberia

by Phillip Robinson

In the pre-20th century period, the interests which took early outsiders into Liberian forests rarely included zoological discovery, with focus instead on business and political exploration. With disputes between indigenous tribal peoples in that time making rural travel unsafe, most visitors to Liberia seldom ventured into relatively undisturbed territory. As a result, there was a tendancy to travel along the well trodden routes through areas where wildlife populations had already been diminished due to human activities.

Opportunities to encounter wildlife were further reduced by traveling parties requiring the involvement of numerous workers to carry supplies, compounded by the secretive, often nocturnal, nature of many forest species.

Prior to the 1880s, observations about wildlife in Liberia remained ad-hoc and largely anecdotal. Of note, however, was the delivery of the first Pygmy Hippopotamus skeletal specimens from Liberia to Philadelphia in the 1840s by Dr. Goheen, and an 1840s report on the use of rock hammers by Chimpanzees near Cape Palmas by Dr. Thomas Savage.

1880 saw the arrival on Liberian shores of the Swiss naturalist Johann Büttikofer and his field associate Carolus Franciscus Sala, who undertook an expedition on the behalf of the Natural History Museum in Leiden, the Netherlands. Following the death of Sala in Liberia in 1881, Büttikofer himself returned to Europe to regain his health. He published his first extended account on Liberian wildlife in Dutch in 1883. A second partner, Franz Xaver Stampli, was recruited to carry out further collecting activities, and he too returned ill to Europe. Together, they both returned for additional work there to expand their knowledge of Liberian fauna.

In 1890 a more comprehensive publication was completed, which earned Büttikofer the title of “The Father of Liberian Natural History”. Whilst the publication of Büttikofer’s animal collecting activities in two volumes, titled Reisebilder aus Liberia (Travel Sketches from Liberia) was in German, he also published various papers in English in the Notes from the Leyden Museum. Excitingly, 2012 will see the release of a full annotated English edition of the Reisebilder by Brill.

Subsequent eminent naturalists followed in Büttikofers footsteps. The Englishman Sir Harry Johnston published a 1906 two-volume work, Liberia. Containing excellent drawings of wildlife species, such as the Bongo, Pygmy Hippopotamus and various avian species, such as the White-breasted Guinea Fowl, Johnston also made a number of personal observations on the deforestation of the Liberian coastal region after the turn of the century. In 1912, Hans Schomburgk, an animal collector, focused on catching and exporting Pygmy Hippopotamus. In doing so he contributed the first substantial information about this species, and thereby helped New York Bronx Zoo initiate the first captive breeding efforts for this species.

A Harvard African Expedition of 1926-1927 with zoologists Glover Allen and Harold Coolidge produced the first systematic lists of mammals and birds, with findings published in 1930 in volume 2 of The African Republic of Liberia and the Belgian Congo. The young German biology student, Otto Schultz-Kampfhenkel, in the footsteps of both Büttikofer and Schomburgk, collected both live and museum speciments in 1931, publishing his account Das Schungel rief in 1933. Following a gap of over a decade, a 1940 expedition by Smithsonian’s National Zoo Director William Mann and the Firestone Rubber Company focussed on the collection of live animals for exhibition at the National Zoo in Washington, D. C.. A 16 mm color video was later assembled from this trip which documents some of the travel and collecting activities, narrated by Mann’s wife Lucile, who participated in the travels.

The 1950’s saw a gradual shift in intent, with subsequent zoological field studies and surveys increasingly directed at ecosystems, although often lacking any useful wildlife objectives. The most significant entomological publication of this era was the 1965 book The Butterflies of Liberia, by Richard M. Fox, et al. whilst the most significant and enduring contribution to avifauna during the past several decades have been made by Dr. Wulf Gatter, the author of Birds of Liberia.

In the early 1960s several biologists began to focus on the Mt. Nimba region, North Liberia, facilitated by LAMCO iron mining company’s presence in the region. Of note were papers published by Dr. Kai Curry-Lindahl. Malcolm Coe and Alec Forbes Watson, who consequently lobbied government to create a Mt. Nimba Nature Reserve. In 1968 Phillip Robinson conducted a Pygmy Hippo survey in Liberia and Sierra Leone, sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund and New York Zoological Society.

The gazettment of Sapo as Liberia’s first national park in 1983, and subsequent construction of Gbaboni Field Research Station, opened a new chapter on biodiversity research in Liberia, which progressed until the outbreak of civil war in late 1989. For the years to follow, conservation work in Liberia was on hold, Liberia wildlife staff dispersed or were isolated in Monrovia, and any initiatives took place outside of the country in the form of the Society for the Renewal of Nature Conservation in Liberia while the war continued.

An increasing number of faunal surveys have been conducted since peace was re-established in 2003, driven by actors ranging from Liberian students to international commercial mining operations. A review of past studies conducted in Sapo National Park in particular can be found in Vogts/FFI’s report ‘Biomonitoring & Research Programme for Sapo National Park’, downloadable from this website. The Wild Chimpanzee Foundation havd also recently completed a nationwide Chimpanzee survey, with results anticipated to be released late 2012/2013. Nevertheless, much remains to be discovered, with the recent establishment of a Centre of Excellence for Ecological Research and Conservation Learning near Sapo National Park intended to go some way towards addressing information gaps.

Capacity Building Tools

Capacity Building Tools

There are a number of open-access training resources available on the internet for those interested in conservation.

Conservation Training is an open and free learning community that offers conservation-based training materials from The Nature Conservancy and their partner organizations. A wide range of online courses are offered for free, including Biodiversity Valuation, Protected Areas, Conservation Management, GIS and an introductory course on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). Click here for more details.

The Conservation Leadership Programme has published several conservation manuals, including The Conservation Project Manual, Expedition Field Techniques – Bird Surveys, Guidelines on writing an Abstract for an Article, Proposal, and A Quick Reference Guide for Writing Good Questions, Hypotheses and Methods for Conservation Projects. Click here for more details.

The Tropical Biology Association have published two manuals aimed at increasing skills in writing articles for publication and raising funds for priority conservation projects. These can be downloaded here

The Cambridge Conservation Initiative have launched a teaching-materials website that provides free training factsheets on 10 prioritised topics, targeted at early- to mid- career conservation practitioners. These training materials and tools not only aim to make the complex subjects of biodiversity, ecosystem services and climate change clearly understandable, but in a way that enables readers to then take this deepened knowledge forward to train others. These can be downloaded here

Butterfly Collecting in Liberia

Butterfly Collecting in Liberia

By Phillip T. Robinson

Catching butterflies in Liberian forests is a bit different than the stereotypical chase with a butterfly net. As the sunlight waxes and wanes through the forest canopy, the butterflies seem to be solar powered, tending to take flight as the sun brightens.

The most common forest collection sites are in canopy breaks created by rivers and streams. There, the butterfly hunter is often most successful when selecting a stationary position and luring the butterfly to a target, rather than running after them among the brushy obstacles of the forest undergrowth.

Nearly any small, colorful object can be a useful attractant, such as brightly colored plastic clothes pins. In order to position the net efficiently on the ground and to avoid entanglement in debris, creating a small “helipad” from river sand is an effective technique if a natural sand bank is not available. A freshly caught specimen may also be used as a decoy.

Now comfortably positioned, with the net balanced on edge, the butterfly hunter awaits their colorful quarry. When the insect lands on or near the target, a quick flip of the wrist flattens the net and traps the glittering papillon. From there, various methods may be used to preserve the collected specimen for later examination. In order to minimize the loss of scales and avoid damage to delicate wing parts, a common method used was to infuse the thorax of the insect with a tiny amount of alcohol preservative. Actually, vodka will suffice. The collected specimen is then placed in envelopes or cardboard mini-boxes to keep them from damage. The next challenge is to move them to a better location where humidity, mold and other insects do not interfere with their preservation for future studies.

Butterflies are also attracted to various odors and residue found along waterway shorelines, such as stagnant water, organic debris and even animal droppings and urine. It is common to see small assemblages of these creatures seemingly magnetized to such spots along the sandy riverbanks of dry season rivers.

The most significant paper on these insects in Liberia is Butterflies of Liberia, which was published in 1965 in the Memoirs of the American Entomological Society (Number 19). It details the collecting efforts of Richard M. Fox, Arthur W. Lindsey, Jr., Harry K. Clench and Lee D. Miller. Fox spent five years in Liberia, where much of his spare time was devoted to these collections. The preparation of that report was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. This publication details Climate, Liberian Biotopes, Biogeography, Collections of Liberian Butterflies, Records of Liberian Butterflies, Collecting Stations, Observations on the Butterfly Fauna, Seasonal Variation, Seasonal Flight Cycle, Ecological Distribution, Endemicity and Classification.

One of the earliest known lists of identified Liberian butterflies was compiled from the 1880s by Johann Büttikofer, the author of Reisebilder aus Liberia (1890) [Travel Sketches from Liberia, 2013].

The most comprehensive and recent publication on butterflies in this sub-region of Africa is The Butterflies of West Africa by Torben B. Larsen (Apollo Books, 2004). One volume contains the text and the other contains color illustrations. Larsen also authored The Hazards of Butterfly Collecting (Cravitz, 2004).

The Liberian postal service has used butterfly images on a number of stamps over the years. One of the coffee mugs to the right depicts a series of these stamps at the website of the Society for the Conservation of Nature in Liberia in their online store at: www.scnlib.net , while the other is the color plate from Butterflies of Liberia (1965).

Short manual for collecting tree data

Short manual for collecting tree data

C.C.H. Jongkind and A.G. Voorhoeve

Liberia is exceptionally rich in tree species: there are over 700 species that can have a diameter of over 10 cm or a height of more than 10 meters. In addition there are hundreds more smaller trees and large shrubs.

The problem is that many of these species are really poorly known. Some of them have been collected by botanists only once whilst some have been collected in Liberia and nowhere else. Most likely there is a number of tree species that have never been collected yet and do not have a botanical name. These are “new” species, that may or may not have a local name, but they are not yet on record.

Early collectors in particular took few notes so that we know that these trees exist, but that’s about all we know. Having so little data makes it difficult, if not impossible, to make a complete Tree Atlas that will enable identifying all species. Often identification does not go farther than: “it looks like —–, but it is different“.

In order to fill the gaps in our knowledge of the Liberian forest composition, more material needs to be collected, and the collected data should be as complete as possible.

This short guide, which you can download by clicking on the link to the left, will give guidelines for doing that.

It is important to fully know the Liberian forest vegetation because in future decades
and centuries the forest will be one of the pillars of existence in Liberia. If choices have to be made about future land use of still forested areas it needs to be known: what is there, can we afford to lose it?

Stamps of Liberia’s Plants & Animals

Stamps of Liberia’s Plants & Animals

By Aminata Bundu

Few people know that Liberia was one of the first countries to develop a postal system in Africa, signing a postal convention with Great Britain in 1850. Even less well known is that Liberia was one of the first countries to issue pictorial stamps of fauna and flora, meaning several stamps were the first portrayal of countless African fauna and flora ever published. For instance, the Agama Lizard (Agama agama) on a 15c stamp from the 1906 issue and the Mudskipper (Periophthalmus barbarous) on a 50c stamp from the 1918 issue are thought to be the first time either species were illustrated on any stamp worldwide.

It was previously believed by Whiten and McGrew (1), that a 1906 5c postage stamp of a Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) was the earliest accurate depiction of tool use in chimpanzees, antedating by at least half a century the scientific accounts of such behaviour by Jane Goodall (2). Through further investigation from Ulrich Kattmann (3), the postage stamp was identified as an accurate drawing of a living ape’s behaviour by the artist Gustav Mützel (1839-1893). But it is not of a wild ape as previously thought. Mützel drew a female chimpanzee called Mafuka from Gabon, who lived in the early 1870s in Dresden Zoo. The zoo apes such as Mafuka learnt how to use tools via imitating their human companions, for example drinking carefully out of a glass or a cup.

Mützel added attributes of the ape’s homeland to the scene, which were later transposed on to a Liberian postage stamp illustrating a chimp using a stick to investigate a termite mound. The original picture shows Mafuka using a stick to explore a knot-hole in the trunk of a tree. Consequently, Jane Goodall remains the first person to document wild chimpanzees ‘fishing’ with tools for termites.

Various African fauna and flora have featured on Liberian postage stamps over the past 150 years. This rich stamp collection of fauna and flora spanning from 1892 was largely due to a passionate British philatelic illustrator, Henry Hayman, who knew the attraction of nature themed stamps. After his resignation in 1918, this tradition continued.

The vast collections of Liberia’s postal history and her stamps have been beautifully collated by Mr Manfred Beier on the Philately of Liberia website. The First Pictorials issued in 1892 contained an African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) on a 4c stamp and Liberia’s flagship species, the charismatic Pygmy Hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis) on a $1 stamp; both were engraved by Waterlow & Sons Ltd.
In 1906, when the Second Pictorials were issued, Hayman had amassed a huge collection of photos, many of which appeared in Sir Harry Johnston’s classic work on Liberia (1906).

To view more of the vast array of Liberian postage stamps starting from 1860 including the Palm Civet (Nandinia binotata), the Bongo Antelope (Taurotragus euryceros), the Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis) and many more go to the Philately of Liberia website.

1 Whiten, A. and McGrew, W.C. Nature 409, 12 (2001)
2 Goodall, J. Nature 201, 1264-1266 (1964)
3 Kattmann, U. Nature 411, 413 (2001)uthor: Aminata Bundu

Available to download

Diana Monkey

Diana Monkey

Cercopithecus diana ssp. diana

The rare Diana Monkey is believed to be in decline throughout much of its range.

IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable [1]
(updated on 03.02.11)

CITES: Appendix I [2]
(updated on 03.02.11)

Liberian Status: None [3]

Geographical Range: The subspecies Cercopithecus diana diana is found in the Upper Guinean Forests. Its range is thought to extend from the south-east coast of Guinea throughout Liberia to the western area of the Ivory Coast [5].

Description: The Diana Monkey has a black to dark grey coat with a white throat, browband and underarms and a white stripe on the back of its legs.

Habitat and Ecology: Diana Monkeys are often seen in large groups [4]. The species occupies forest canopy [5] and rarely spends time on the ground. The species mainly feeds on fruit and insects, in addition to flowers and young leaves.

Threats: This rare species is believed to be in decline throughout much of its range [5]. The mains threats to the species include hunting and loss of forest habitat.


[1] IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 03 February 2011.

[2] UNEP-WCMC. 3 February, 2011. UNEP-WCMC Species Database: CITES-Listed Species.

[3] The Government of Liberia’s Forest Development Authority. [online] Available at: <http://www.fda.gov.lr> [Accessed 01.02.11] [4] Barrie, A., Zwuen, S., Kota Sr., A.N., Luo, M. and Luke R., 2007. Rapid survey of large mammals of North Lorma, Gola and Grebo National Forest, Liberia:59-64. Conservation International.

[5] Oates, J.F., Gippoliti, S. & Groves, C.P. 2008. Cercopithecus diana. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 06 February 2011.

Jentink’s Duiker

Jentink’s Duiker

Cephalophus jentinki

The Jentink’s Duiker lives in thick rainforest and is considered exceptionally rare. The species is in decline due to loss of habitat and uncontrolled hunting.

IUCN Red List status: Endangered [1](updated on 03.02.11)

CITES: Appendix I [2](updated on 03.02.11)

Liberian Status: None [3]

Geographical Range: The species range extends throughout Liberia and includes the western edges of the Ivory Coast and is patchily distributed in Sierra Leone [4].

Description: The species has a blackish head and neck and a light grey to white collar which fades into a uniform grey body [5]. Facial glands are believed to look like a pair of eyes, and so the local name of ‘four eyes’ is sometimes used [5].

Habitat and Ecology: The Jentink’s Duiker is approximately 79cm in height and 64kg in weight [5]. It is generally seen on its own or in pairs [6]. It tends to shy and secretive by nature [6]. The species is thought to feed on forest fruit, seeds, leaves, and tubers [6]. The Jentink’s Duiker is considered to be dependent on rainforest habitat, but is has been observed on the edges of plantations and cultivated areas [6].

Threats: The Jentink’s Duiker is considered exceptionally rare [5] and is thought to be in decline [4]. The main threats to the species are the destruction of forest habitat and uncontrolled hunting [4].


[1] IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 10 February 2011.

[2] UNEP-WCMC. 3 February, 2011. UNEP-WCMC Species Database: CITES-Listed Species.

[3] The Government of Liberia’s Forest Development Authority. [online] Available at: <http://www.fda.gov.lr> [Accessed 01.02.11] [4] IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group 2008. Cephalophus jentinki. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 03 February 2011

[5] Spinage, C.A., 1986. The Natural History of Antelopes. Croom Helm Publishers Ltd., Kent, U.K.

[6] Peal, A.L. and Kranz, K.R., 1990. Chapter 12: Liberia. Pp. 47-51. In: East, R. 1990. Antelopes: West and Central Africa Pt. 3: Global Survey and Regional Action Plans. World Conservation Union.