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Conserving Liberia

Dr Mary Molokwu at the Sapo Conservation Centre, Liberia Dr Mary Molokwu at the Sapo Conservation Centre, Liberia Tusk
04 Dec
‘If you want a country to be able to manage or conserve its forests and biodiversity, it must have the local capacity to do it,’ says Dr Mary Molokwu, who has been establishing academic forestry and conservation programs in Liberia.

She is now the project co-ordinator of a three year-old conservation centre in Sapo National Park, the country’s largest area of protected rainforest and its only national park. The centre runs yearly field courses for undergraduates and forestry organisation professionals in the aim of safeguarding the Liberia’s undiscovered biodiversity, carbon storing potential to raise the profile of its conservation research. ‘Formerly, foreign scientists would visit to collect data in Liberia, with locals serving as assistants,’ she says ‘then they would leave with their data to their home institutions’. This issue of ‘helicopter science’, is common in developing countries and often leaves skilled locals in the backseat of research and excluded from findings.

‘Now Liberians are doing research independently, while analysing and explaining their findings. I’m very excited about it.’

hippoNative to Liberian rainforests, the pygmy hippo is one of many species threatened by commercial interests (Image: Shutterstock)

Molokwu says conservation capacity is crucial to Liberia, which has enough forest to cover the entirety of Denmark, ‘when you look at a forest map of west Africa you see that it is mostly green – almost entirely green – every time I look at it I think Liberia is blessed.’ However, competition with commercial interests puts the forest at risk and in the last decade a lot of concessions have been granted to logging companies. ‘Not only is the forest being eroded but the full biodiversity of its species is not yet known, with time there could be species that existed that no one knew were there.’

The Ebola outbreak has caused a slow down in Liberia’s conservation. As the country recovers, Molokwu hopes to introduce more opportunities for conservation students. ‘We are looking at a future where the forestry program could become a masters course, so that those who have completed the bachelors degree have somewhere to specialise’.

Dr Mary Molokwu was nominated for the 2015 Tusk Conservation Awards

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