Elephant Reportedly Seen Sick In Western Liberia

By Paul Hebelamou

MONROVIA: Concerns are growing over the poor appearance of one of the roaming elephants in the Western Region town of Vargaye, Grand Cape Mount County. Always wandering together, perhaps in search of food or appropriate habitat, one of the two elephants is reported to have been sick for a month now, according to some community members.

The actual cause of the poor health condition of the elephant remains unknown. Community members, mostly local farmers and hunters, have attributed the sickness to a trap’s wire on the trunk of one of the elephants, often seen moving in pairs.

In recent months, reports of human-wildlife conflicts have been on the rise in areas like Marbon, Managorduah, Heyeah, Gbanjallah, Kpelleh Village, Mana kpowu and Vargaye towns in Grand Cape Mount County. Incidents of elephants raiding crops and entering human settlements have become more frequent, thus leading to heightened tensions and fear among local residents.

These conflicts have escalated to the point that the wildlife are at the verge of losing the battle with the angry residents who feel the need to protect their livelihoods and families amid lack of mediation between the opposing forces. It is being observed that one of the elephants leading the battle against the residents of Vargaye Town has fallen into an ambush (trap). Residents say trap wire can be seen hanging around the trunk of the elephant whose appearance indicates it is unhealthy. This alarming trend of the human-wildlife conflict underscores the urgent need for better planning and actions by mediation teams, particularly the Forestry Development Authority to address the root causes of these conflicts and protect both the humans and wildlife.

There is a common saying in Liberia that “when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”. In the case of human-wildlife conflict, it is the elephants that suffer because they are in battle with superior and intelligent creatures. The only hope for survival for the wildlife is the intervention of the government. But for now, the elephants are gradually losing the battle and are at the risk of extinction if care is not taken to mediate between the opposing forces.

Collaboration among conservationists, local communities, and government authorities to ensure stability and restore confidence between opposing forces cannot be overemphasized. There is an urgent need to find sustainable solutions to the crisis between human-wildlife in Western Liberia.

The failure of the Forestry Department to adequately protect wildlife has led to a surge in human-wildlife conflicts, thus putting the elephants, forest buffalo and local communities at risk in Gola Konneh District, Grand Cape Mount County. The lack of effective control measures has resulted in increased incidents of wildlife encroachment into human settlements, leading to tragic consequences for both humans and animals. FDA has said it lacks the logistical and financial capacities to be everywhere.

Conservationists and community leaders are concerned about the lack of effective strategies to mitigate these conflicts and ensure the safety of both parties. Mr. Saidu Saysay is the Principal of Vargaye Public School. He told the Liberia Forest Media Watch that the people of Vargaye are often affected by elephants’ invasions. According to him, residents are experiencing challenges and disruptions in their daily lives. “These majestic animals are causing extensive damage to crops, property, and infrastructure, leading to economic loss and food insecurity for many households”, he said.

A resident and local farmer, only identified as Kollie added that the constant fear and uncertainty surrounding elephant invasions have taken a toll on the mental, physical and emotional health of community members. “The stress and anxiety caused by the constant threat from the elephants have created a sense of insecurity and helplessness among the affected communities”, Mr. Kollie lamented.

Town Chief of VargayeTown, Mana Jallah said he and his people are working together to find suitable solutions that can minimize the negative impacts of the elephant invasions. Some of the suitable solutions, he said, include regular calls on radio stations aimed at promoting the need for peaceful coexistence between humans and elephants.

Human-wildlife conflict in Western Liberia dates back in 2017. This timeframe signals that the conflict has been going on for years. It is likely that the elephants have lost their way out. “We are calling on our lawmakers, his Excellency Joseph Nyumah Boaika, the President who also believes in tourism and agriculture to come to our rescue”, said Town Chief Jallah.

Despite the difficulties, Town Chief Jallah noted he and his people remain resilient and committed to finding appropriate ways to peacefully coexist with these “magnificent creatures”, while at the same time protecting their livelihoods and safety until the mediation team (FDA) can arrive if ever they will arrive.

The risk of elephants’ extinction in Liberia amid the current rise in human and wildlife conflict is high. In 2021, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a report  in which it said the African Elephants, mainly the ones in Liberia, are at the highest risk of extinction. The report put the number of elephants in Liberia between 350 and 450. The study focused on the Northwestern forest block of Liberia.

With the current wave of roaming elephants in Western Liberia, one is left to determine that bush-meat hunting, mining and logging are the primary causes of human-wildlife conflict. When the habitats of these elephants are disturbed with the sound of chainsaw machines, mining dredges and earthmoving equipment, they are left to wander in search of better homes having been driven from their original homes.

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