Illegal wildlife bushmeat is decimating Liberia’s protected species (credit: Peaches Cummeh)
Natural EnvironmentWomen and Girls

MAF enables Liberia’s anti-bushmeat campaign

3rd February 2024

Illegal wildlife bushmeat is decimating Liberia’s protected species (credit: Peaches Cummeh)

Illegal bushmeat trade is decimating Liberia’s protected species (credit: Peaches Cummeh)

Campaigners Peaches Cummeh from the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) and Comfort Davies – a former illegal bushmeat trader – have joined forces with MAF to protect Liberia’s wildlife. Thanks to MAF flights, they’re accessing and educating remote communities to help prevent the slaughter of wild animals for meat. MAF’s Rachel Gwole reports

On 2 February, 20 women from Grand Bassa County, west Liberia, graduated from a six-month course about wildlife conservation, ecotourism and sustainable livelihoods (source: Liberian Observer).

To date, over 260 former illegal bushmeat traders across the country have completed the course – part of a ‘UK AID’ backed initiative, which began in July 2022.

The initiative entitled ‘Empowering local women to reduce illegal wildlife trade in Liberia’ aims to educate women about how selling meat from protected species is decimating Liberia’s wildlife, especially chimpanzees.

According to British Ambassador Neil Bradley, who spoke at the graduation, western chimpanzees are critically endangered, with only 35,000 left in the wild. Less than 7,000 are left in Liberia’s forests:

‘Over the past 25 years, western chimpanzee populations have declined by over 80%, mostly due to poaching and habitat loss When we destroy nature, we undermine our very foundations.’

Neil Bradley British Ambassador to Liberia

Bushmeat traders are unaware of Liberia’s laws

In Liberia, the killing and eating of protected wildlife, keeping them as pets or trading and trafficking protected species is forbidden. If found guilty, violators are prosecuted, fined or jailed. Despite the serious consequences of breaking the law, many rural women are still simply unaware.

The course informs women about wildlife preservation laws and provides alternative, sustainable business ideas, turning illegal traders into conservation ambassadors.

The course aims to turn illegal traders into conservation ambassadors (credit: Peaches Cummeh)

The course aims to turn illegal traders into conservation ambassadors (credit: P. Cummeh)

MAF passenger Peaches Cummeh from Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority (FDA) who is leading the initiative, explains what she hopes to achieve:

‘Local businesswomen who are ignorant of the law are destroying our wildlife, which is forcing various species to leave the forests and travel elsewhere. As a result, most of our wildlife like elephant, leopard, snake and chimpanzee are now difficult to see in our forests.

‘We are travelling to Harper, River Gee and Pleebo Market to provide training and to recruit local bushmeat sellers. We raise awareness about the different types of species that are hunted in Liberia’s forests and the importance of the animals living within the forests.’

MAF flies campaigners to remote areas

Peaches Cummeh (L) & Comfort Davies (R) are ready to work as soon as they land in Harper (credit: P.Cummeh)

Peaches (L) & Comfort (R) are ready to work when they land in Harper (credit: P. Cummeh)

Peaches is accompanied by fellow MAF passenger Comfort Davies – a former illegal bushmeat trader turned campaigner. Together, they have addressed at least 10 markets across the country and plan to target more.

Comfort used to be an illegal trader for some 20 years in the capital’s most famous market – Red Light Market in Monrovia. She knows only too well how difficult it is for women traders to turn away from selling bushmeat – often their only source of income:

‘I stopped doing the bushmeat market because of the love of my country Mama Liberia. Now, I’m representing other local women who have also left the business. I am making an impact by encouraging local businesswomen to avoid such business.’

MAF’s approx. one hour flight to Harper saved Comfort a week of overland travel (credit: Peaches Cummeh)

MAF’s 1 hour flight to Harper saved Comfort a week of road travel (credit: P. Cummeh)

One bushmeat market, which benefited from the training, is in the coastal town of Harper in the southern tip of Liberia. Without MAF’s one-hour flight from the capital Monrovia, it would have taken Peaches and Comfort a whole week of exhausting road travel to get there.

Without MAF, Peaches believes that their work would be seriously hampered:

‘If it wasn’t for MAF, it would be difficult to get rid of Liberia’s bushmeat trade. People are encouraged when they see our flights to remote villages. This illegal business in the bush is reducing.’

Peaches Cummeh from Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority

MAF not only saved the women precious time, but allowed them to arrive refreshed and ready to do their important work instead of spending days battling Liberia’s pot-holed, unpaved and dangerously muddy ‘roads’.

Hope for the future

Many ex-bushmeat traders are now selling vegetables or bitter balls (a Liberian speciality) as a result of their campaigning.

Peaches hopes that their awareness-raising will continue to have a far-reaching impact across Liberia:

‘I believe awareness about the illegal bushmeat trade will spread across the ten counties that the FDA operates in, and that other counties will see the importance of protecting
God’s creatures.

‘It’s so amazing to have animals in our forests. It’s an adventure for visitors who travel from different countries to visit Liberia’s forests to see a variety of species.’

If someone like Comfort – entrenched in the trade for two decades – can change their way of life, there is hope for others she says:

‘I was once a distributor and leader at the Red-Light Market. If I can change today, I know others can do the same. It feels so good! Now, I’m free and happy to work for my country raising awareness among those involved in this illegal business.’

Comfort thanks MAF for playing their important part:

‘A big round of applause to MAF for their excellent job in Liberia. Please continue your good service so we can spread good information about this illegal trade that is happening within the forests of Liberia.’

Comfort Davies – ex-bushmeat trader turned campaigner

Thanks to MAF, these remote women in Harper are better informed about illegal bushmeat (credit: P. Cummeh)

Remote traders in Harper are now informed about illegal bushmeat (credit: P. Cummeh)