A well-coordinated campaign designed at creating all-inclusive awareness on the need to protect and conserve Liberia’s wildlife consistent with global principle and to observe COVID-19 health procedures was on Tuesday July 14, 2020 tossed in Monrovia at several strategic locations including market places where bush meat trade is customarily concentrated.
Supervised by the Risk Communication Pillar of the Incident Management System (IMS) and Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority (FDA), the ceremony was respectively sponsored and co-sponsored by several conservation partners and donors: Wild Chimpanzee Foundation, Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection, Humane Society International, Fauna & Flora International, Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia, FIFES, Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary, Environment and Development Associates, Jane Goodall Institute, European Union, UKAID, Zoo Leipzig, and the German Embassy in Liberia, and USAID.
The members of the combined awareness team were drawn from the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), FDA’s divisions of Wildlife, Public Affairs, Awareness and Ecotourism and the Confiscation Unit. Others comprised of Liberia’s leading drama group, the Eddie Theater Production and the Daily Talk group.
Team A visited the Rehab Market, ELWA Market, Old Road Market, Rally Town Market while Team B visited the Redlight Market, Chicken Soup Market, Duala Market, Super Market and lastly Free Port. In the market areas, the teams worked with newly recruited Community Volunteers who will be supporting FDA’s awareness activities in the long term.
Under this year’s motto “Protecting Chimpanzees Protects Us All” T-Shirts and flyers portraying measures against COVID-19, especially the wearing of face masks, the risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases, and the relevance of chimpanzees including their close relationship with humans were shared amongst the excited public, especially with the visibility of a giant size chimpanzee (a person wearing a chimpanzee costume) which was being conveyed in an open pickup.
The chimpanzee would dance and wave to the viewing crowd. The chorus of the celebration song developed by the Eddie Theater Production filled the air and thrilled the seeming enthusiastic audience. At the close of every segment of the kivisit, the audience would sing the usual birthday song as mark of their respect to the honoree (chimpanzee) now called Mr. Caeser.
The song went thus: “Happy birthday to you, Mr. Caeser; happy birthday to you dear; we wish you long life and good health.” This was how the crowd paid tribute to Mr. Caeser as it is often done with human beings. A sense of humanity was being created given the honor and respect shown Mr. Caeser (chimpanzee) which lives in the forest kingdom yet remains man’s inseparable relative.
The Project Coordinator of the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation Odaphus B. Zardee amazingly remarked based on the conduct of the exercise: “This exercise is much more practical and should be continued the next time we observe this day. If we continue this new method we will achieve the desired results,” he noted thankfully. For his part the FDA Public Affairs Manager of the FDA F. Shelton Gonkerwon expressed delight in the awareness exercise and underscored its crucial nature as far as the role of protecting Liberia’s forest and all of its inherent biodiversity are concerned.
“If we are not allowed to eat these sweet, sweet meat what we will eat naa?”A market woman down waterside provokingly asked one of the awareness members who had just shared with her photos of the protected animals. “If you eat all the animals today and enjoy the sweetness, what happens when they are no more?” the team member threw the question back to the market woman. The conversation was joined by another market lady who seemed to be moved by the conduct of the exercise.
“These people are doing the right thing for the country,” she said being seemingly annoyed by the remark made by her colleague. She continued,” When you are allowed to eat all the meat and die one day those to come in the future will suffer.” That was a joke that certainly contained the reality as it relates to the common attribute of the Liberian people towards critically endangered species, a joke that sends a clarion call to all patriotic Liberians to see the culture of conservation as a national value, a joke that truly contains wisdom and the element of nationalism. That is a joke that should claim the attention of the Liberian people as we strive to preserve and conserve wildlife.
Indeed, chimpanzees and men have similarities that are assigned by nature, something which makes chimpanzees men’s closet relatives with biological similarities. It is scientifically proven that about 98.6 percent of the DNA found in chimpanzees is also in men. Essentially, they play an important role in maintaining the forest and its biodiversity. They bear no anger and pose no danger for man. Tourists from all over the world are excited to visit Liberia to see these exciting species that nature has endowed the nation.
The wildlife law of Liberia has and continues to warn people against hunting and killing chimpanzees, cutting down the forest where they live, pet trade and mining and logging all of which threaten their survival. Finally, by avoiding killing and eating wild animals or avoiding keeping them as pets, also the risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases is reduced. Many other viruses, like Ebola and Corona, are found in animals and can become risky to humans, of the wildlife is not left in the forest.