Story by Katie Machell, photos by Wild Chimpanzee Foundation
Founded in 2000 by Swiss primatologist Professor Christophe Boesch, the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF) is a conservation organisation working across three countries in West Africa.
Active in Liberia since 2008, with offices established in Liberia in 2013, WCF aims to implement education, conservation, livelihood and research projects, focusing on the protected areas of the Grebo-Krahn and Sapo National Parks, as well as the Krahn-Bassa Proposed Protected Area, all in south eastern Liberia.
WCF Community eco-guard team working around the Grebo-Krahn National Park
‘Conservation is a big new idea to this generation,’ says WCF Communications Officer, Jacob Tweh. ‘We work to raise awareness about the need for conservation to be prioritised, by the locals, and even national government.’
The forest 'bank'
Due to its recent history, Liberia has been a particularly challenging context in which to promote responsible environmental practice and protection.
Jacob explains the background. ‘We had 14 years of civil war, and when people came back from exile they had a tendency to treat the forest as their bank: almost all of their things, what they need to live, they get from the forest.’
In response, WCF has introduced a new opportunity in the form of fish farming, as an alternative means of survival. ‘You have some fish to eat, you have some to sell,’ he says simply. ‘And I think the dividends have been huge; many of them have realised, that if a hunter goes in the bush and kills all of the wildlife, it doesn't benefit the community, it only benefits him and his family. If they preserve the forests, that will bring in tourists and when tourists come, the adjacent community will have something. Though it's a gradual process, people are starting to understand.’
I think MAF have been doing extremely well for us; without MAF, I'm not quite sure whether we could have some of our projects running, especially during the rainy season.
Flying to avoid bad roads
Remoteness and inaccessibility of the communities where WCF works also have significant impact. ‘In Liberia, we have bad roads; the road is very terrible,’ Jacob says. ‘Most of the communities we work in are very isolated, and getting materials there has always been a problem for us.’
This is where MAF has been able to offer support, carrying both personnel and resources from the capital, Monrovia, to the field office in the eastern town of Zwedru. ‘I think MAF have been doing extremely well for us; without MAF, I'm not quite sure whether we could have some of our projects running, especially during the rainy season.’
Agent of change
Describing the duty of preserving the forests as ‘an awesome responsibility’, Jacob himself was drawn into the work by his passion to be an agent for change in his country.
In spite of the difficulties, he remains convinced that conservation is beneficial for all. ‘You know, for me as a Liberian, I think we need to help our country; if we want Liberia to be better we need to take the bull by the horns. If we keep our forests it will attract more investors; when investors come, development will come.’
‘My passion is to help my people, especially rural people. In Liberia about half of our population is living in abject poverty and when you look at the statistics, they are all in the rural areas. All because they are isolated. Bad roads. No basic social services are provided to them. So that actually drives me; that is my passion: to see rural people lifted from poverty. And that is exactly what we at Wild Chimpanzee are very much interested in,’ he concludes.