Photo Credit: Josh Kempinski

How a single Pygmy Hippo photo gave rise to the Wonegizi Proposed Protected Area Project


To think an entire project could have been sparked by a single grainy black and white photo of a Critically Endangered Pygmy Hippo is remarkable, comments Josh Kempinski. He is project coordinator with SOS Grantee and IUCN Member, Fauna & Flora International and has been working with the communities of Liberia’s Wonegizi district to create a co-managed protected area there since 2012.


Camera traps spotting more and more Pygmy hippos in Wonegizi
Credits : Fauna & Flora International
Perhaps even more noteworthy is the progress this participatory process, to establish Wonegizi as a protected area, has made given the setbacks caused by an Ebola outbreak in early 2014 – “we couldn’t even get near to Wonegizi for months”.
His team’s commitment to the project has been vindicated with significant progress on the gazettement process over the course of 33 meetings with figureheads and leaders from eleven communities in March and June, 2015. Gazettement refers to the formal description of the Proposed Protected Area (PPA) in documented format.

The outcome? Following these rounds of consultation and a subsequent workshop with the Forest Development Authority and other stakeholder organisations, the project is now in a position to present the results of this participatory research and design process to the highest levels of government in Liberia including a gazettement report and draft management plan – or ‘Strategic Action Plan’ as it has become known.


During the March consultations the team took the opportunity to place more camera traps in the forest, with the support and help of local hunters. Incredibly the cameras, retrieved during the June round of meetings, revealed several new pygmy hippo photos, and video, along with images of several other threatened species including chimpanzees. “These are the best images of pygmy hippos from outside a gazetted protected area in Liberia, and some of the best wild images anywhere”, Josh explains. “It’s also the first video of the species from the north-west of Liberia”.

Pygmy Hippos are little known, and conservation of this rare and endemic species, and their forest habitat, remain underfunded and often ignored, unfortunately. These videos and images will be critical to further raising awareness about the species and Wonegizi PPA locally, nationally and internationally.

Placing the community at the center of project design activities, and ultimately also within the management structure of the PPA, through co-management is vital to its longer term survival.

“The participatory process has been key”, concludes Josh. “It draws attention to the costs and challenges, but also the benefits of the PPA, including Pygmy Hippo conservation.”




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