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

Posted in West African Fauna.

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