-JPN-Liberia Investigation Reveals
The Gola Forest National Park has unique look like this waterfalls in SLC located in the park [photo by JPN-Liberia and SCNL]
The Gola Forestry National Park (GFNP) is said to be under immense human threats due to illicit Mining, wildlife hunting and illegal encroachment by the Bangura Family according to Journlaists for the Protection of Nature’s investigation.
A ‘notorious hunter,’ widely only known as “County” was arrested in May 2020, in a joint security operation from the Middle of the Park.
According to the group, he has been engaged in killing wildlife and carrying out illicit mining in the Gola Forest National Park.
“County” who has been in security custody for the past three months to face trial on allegations of destroying the biodiversity and ecosystem of the Park was released on July 21, 2020, allegedly escorted back in the Park by well-armed Liberia Immigration Officers assigned in Gbarpolu County.
He was facing trial for allegedly hunting, mining and farming in the National Park at a magisterial court in Gbarpolu County.
Local community Residents around the Gola Forest National Park said since the release of “County” allegedly by the LIS, he has since resumed indiscriminate killing of protected animals to restart his bush meat trade.
They said “County” has also resumed his illegal mining activities in the Gola Forest National Park and threatened to get even with anyone standing in his way.
“This notorious hunter has built himself a camp in the center of the Park,” citizens told the group.
“County”is operating from the Gbarpolu side of the Gola Forest National Park where huge consignment of bush meat comes from and taken to the market in Monrovia.
“We want the government of Liberia through the Forestry Development Authority to work with the security forces and our County authorities to make sure that man is removed from our Park and stop him by law not to go there again”, a female resident in Kongbor town, located 2 kilometer away from the park told Journalists for the Protection of Nature (JPN-Liberia).
“This “County”man is not a born citizen of this Gbarpolu County, he hailed from Nimba and he came to do hunting business way back but now since the forest was created as a National Park he has refused to leave the Park”, another resident of Kongbor in Kungbar District told JPN-Liberia in an interview.
One local Journalist in Kungbor District where the Park connects Gbapolu County said “County” was arrested three month ago with L.A.R automatic raffle gun by states security.
Lawrence Shebor said on July 21, 2020, a team of armed LIS officers escorted “County” into the Park with his raffle.
Mr. Shebor added the presence of “County” in the National Park has created fear among residents because he uses automatic weapons to threaten people that oppose his being in the Park.
But, Gbapolu County Superintendent Kaye Sahn said he could not speak to the matter in detail because “County” when through the due-process of law and was set free by the Bopolu Magisterial Court due to the lack of sufficient evidence to convict him.
The Gola forest in Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2009 was declared as transboundary peace Park by former Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Ernest Bai-Koroma and the Liberian side of the forest was later legislated in 2016 by the Legislature as a protected area.
While the people of Sierra Leone were taken practical action to prevent illicit human activities on their side of the forest “County”has become the main resistance to change.
On the Cape Mount Side of the Forest, the National Park is facing another threat from the Bangura Family.
The Bangura Family is claiming ownership to 2,557 acres of land beyond the buffer zone between the community forest and the Park.
But, Porkpa District Paramount Chief, Jamiatu Watson said the people of the district are resolved to resist any attempt by the Bagura’s Family to encroach on the Gola Forest National Park.
Chief Watson said the forest has already being demarcated by government with the consent of chiefs, elders, and zoes as well as women and youth groups, the local authorities of the District.
She said they will do nothing or allow anything that would reverts the gains made in establishing the Gola forest as National Park.
Chief Watson said the government including the local people and conservation organizations have done so much to establish the park and they will not allow a group of family to undermine their efforts in the name of buying 2,557 acres of land in 1925.
The contending Bangura Family allegedly hailed from neighboring Sierra Leone in the 1920s, accommodated by the people of Sokpo Clan in a traditional way to do mining and farming activities.
Chief Watson said she wondered why a family that was accommodated by their forefathers 95 years ago without compensation to them, would now engage in a campaign to claim huge portion of the Gola Forest National Park.
However, the lead NGO ensuring the protection and management of the Park, Society for the Conservation of Nature (SCNL) fears that the presence of “County” in the Park couple with attempt by the Bangura family to encroach on the park are serious threats to the biodiversity of the forest.
SCNL argued that conservation organizations have hugely invested in the management and protection of the park and called on government to help remove “County” from the Park and stop the Bangura family from encroaching on the forest.
When contacted Liberia Immigration Service Spokesman Abraham Dorley on the release of “County” back to the Gola Forest, said he was not aware of information of such nature.
Why Protect Gola forest national Park?
The total landscape of the Gola Forest National Park is about 88,000 hectares and stretches from Gbarpolu and Cape Mount counties entering into Sierra Leonean.
As protected area, the Gola forest National Park has suffered many encroachments from illegal miners and hunters.
The park is one of the important biodiversity hotspots, with 60 endangered species assessed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species are found in the in the Park, including the Vulnerable Forest Elephant.
Surveys in the Gola Forest National Park have identified 48 other medium to large-sized mammal species, including Diana Monkeys, Critically Endangered Western Chimpanzees, and three endangered species: the Pygmy Hippopotamus, Jentink’s Duiker and Western Red Colobus Monkey which are good for Science.
In February 2020, the governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia respectively re-affirmed their commitment to the protection of the Gola Forest National Park as peace Transboundary Park in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. Contributed by Joseph O. Sayon/JPN-Liberia