The Pygmy Hippopotamus, (Choeropsis liberiensis), is one of the least known large mammals in the world. Hunted for meat, its habitat has also been severely reduced by wide-scale deforestation, resulting in a serious population decline.
The pygmy hippos found in Wonegizi Proposed Protected Area face an uncertain future. In the last 10 years or so, since the end of civil war in Liberia, deforestation rates have risen dramatically, driven by a combination of slash and burn agriculture, practiced by the local communities, and commercial forest clearance for timber, oil palm and rubber.
Wonegizi is in urgent need of legal recognition (gazettement), law enforcement and management, so that the hippos there (together with other species including chimpanzees and forest elephants), get the urgent protection they need to survive.
The current threats can be summarised as very low capacity for conservation, high hunting pressure for local bush meat consumption and trade and ongoing habitat loss and degradation.
The Wonegizi Pygmy Hippo Project will focus on securing this key area of habitat for species. To that end, the project will undertake 4 mains activities.
Firstly, it will gather existing documentation, like surveys and reports, to add to the project's outputs, to form a gazettement package with the aim of furthering and/or speeding up the gazettement process.
Secondly, the project will develop a management plan for the site, in close consultation with government forestry (FDA PA) managers and the local community.
Thirdly, a co-management framework, agreement and committee will be developed, to ensure that the local people remain central to the management of Wonegizi, and are part of the design and implementation of the management plan.
Finally, the project will undertake a capacity assessment for the co-management committee (government staff and local forest managers) so as to highlight needs and develop training opportunities, going forward.
The first step to saving the pygmy hippo in Liberia is an improvement in forest governance and management of key hippo habitat. To achieve this, protected areas are essential, but these must be operational, with management plans and appropriate staff capacity.
Moreover, it is seen as crucial, for long term conservation of the area, that the local people have a key role in forest management and decision making, in recognition of their ancestral and customary rights over the forest.
Support (via new data, collation of existing reports and materials and advocacy) the gazettement of a new protected area (Wonegizi Nature Reserve);
Active and sustainable management of 37,000ha of key pygmy hippo habitat;
Capacity building for protected area and local staff, towards a reduction in local treats, especially encroachment and hunting;
Improved local, national and international awareness about the rare and endangered pygmy hippo, and the important role that Liberia, and Wonegizi in particular, plays in its conservation and survival.