A History of Liberian Conservation


By Alice Ramsey and Phillip Robinson



Liberia’s wildlife has attracted conservation interest for decades. While official moves towards conservation in Liberia were undertaken by the government as early as 1938, the first conservation legislation was the Forestry Act of 1953 which provided a mechanism through which national parks and reserves could be established. Subsequent amendments to this imposed restrictions on hunting.

In 1969, Dr Kai Curry-Lindahl, who set up an ecological research station at Mount Nimba in 1962, called for an urgent program of conservation to be implemented in Liberia, recognising that a lack of financial resources was limiting conservation in Liberia, rather than a lack of government interest. The1960s also brought IUCN advisor Dr. Jacques Verschuren to the country to consider potential areas for national parks and protected areas. The Forestry Development Authority (FDA), created in 1976, began a dialogue on wildlife conservation, with Alexander L. Peal appointed as the first head of wildlife and national parks in 1978. In the early 1980s Verschuren and Peal visited and carried out aerial surveillance of various forest regions in the country in efforts to determine the most likely locations to initiate the first national park projects, publishing their recommendations in 1983.

In 1981 and 1982, sponsored by the National Geographic Society and the Zoological Society of San Diego, Alexander Peal and Phillip Robinson conducted a park feasibility study which recommended the establishment of Sapo (Sarpo*) National Park, symbolically designating a site in Jarpukehn, Liberia as the Sapo National Park Research Station. In 1982, Peal and Robinson met personally with the Liberian head of state, Samuel K. Doe, to recruit his support for the establishment of Sapo National Park.

The Sapo National Park was officially designated in 1983 by a military decree. It was, and still is, managed by the FDA. Two civil wars between 1989 and 2003 all but halted nature conservation activities, although a number of small-scale conservation activities were carried out by national and international NGOs during this time, often in collaboration with the FDA. With the return of stability, conservation efforts again gathered pace once again. The year 2001 saw the launch of the Liberia Forest Reassessment (LFR) project, a multi-partner initiative which produced current information on Liberia’s forest cover conducting field visits of identified forest blocks to assess biological and socio-economic characteristics.

Concurrently, in 2002, the Government of Liberia signed a MOU with Conservation International pledging to set aside 30% of its remaining forests for conservation, including the creation of protected areas. This pledge was formalized in 2003 in the Act for the Establishment for a Protected Forest Area Network, leading to the expansion of Sapo National Park by 50,000 Ha (making its final size 180,400 Ha) and the formation of Liberiaâs second protected area- East Nimba Nature Reserve (ENNR) (13,500 Ha).

In 2007 an FDA-led workshop to discuss Liberia’s Protected Areas Network Strategy resulted in the testing the concept through the creation of three new proposed protected areas for Liberia, namely Lake Piso, Gola National Forest, and Wonegizi Forest, greatly supported by the World Banks Consolidation of Protected Area Network (COPAN) project. The Lake Piso Multiple Use Reserve (97,159 Ha) and Gola National Forest Park (780,000 Ha) have been gazetted. Cestos-Sankwehn and Grebo-Krahn were proposed in 2016.

To date (September 2018), the country five protected areas have been gazetted: Sapo National Park, East Nimba Nature Reserve, Lake Piso Multiple Use Reserve, Gola National Forest Park, and Grebo-Krahn National Park, and several others are on the verge of being protected. Attempts are being made to connect existing protected areas using existing forests between them.

Liberia currently has five Wetlands of International Importance designated under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. These cover Lake Piso, Gbedin, Kpatawee, Mesurado and Marshall wetlands. BirdLife International has designated one Endemic Bird Area (The Upper Guinea Forests) and nine Important Bird Areas (IBAs) across Liberia (including the Sapo National Park and several areas designated as National Forests). Mount Nimba was recently designated an Alliance for Zero Extinction Site . The Upper Guinea Rivers and Streams WWF Global 200 site which straddles the border of Liberia, is recognized as a critical region for freshwater conservation. The proposed protected area, Wonegezi Forest, is a pilot site for the Reduce Emissions caused by Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program in Liberia.

Liberia has ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

The FDA, aided by national and international partners, continues to work tirelessly to promote conservation in the Liberia, and to supply rangers for tireless patrol of these protected areas.


Posted in Sapo Conservation Centre.



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