ACT - Volume 9 Issue 1 

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The Importance of Sapo Conservation Centre for Conservation Studies in Liberia

By Mary Molokwu

Biodiversity in Liberia is part and parcel of its national reconstruction and development strategy which includes food security, alternate livelihoods, land reforms, and income equality. After 14 years of civil unrest which severely impacted its forests and natural resources, the call for increased capacity to conserve Liberia’s forests led to several initiatives. However, not much was known about Liberia’s biodiversity and for a long time no facilities existed to support scientists looking to advance knowledge in this all-encompassing endeavor.

A lecture hall at Sapo Conservation Centre, Liberia. Photo credit: SCC

The Sapo Conservation Centre (SCC) was established in 2013, within the ambit of Fauna and Flora International’s (FFI) project 'Building Capacity of the Next Generation of Liberian Conservation Professionals' and it includes  training, mentorship, internships, networking  etc. which are made available to trainees from participating institutions.  SCC serves as a base for training Liberian foresters, natural resource managers and biologists in conservation issues and ecological research, to improve local capacity in conservation and facilitate access to Liberia’s biodiversity and ecosystems for national and international researchers. Major stakeholders in the SCC include FFI in collaboration with Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority (FDA), University of Liberia (UL), Liberia’s Forestry Training Institute (FTI) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). Funding organizations are the the UK Darwin Initiative, US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Great Ape Fund, Basel Zoo, Arcus Foundation and the Global Trees Campaign.
SCC offers undergraduate level short training courses of up to 2 weeks duration, 2 to 3 times a year for students and academic instructors from the University of Liberia, Monrovia, Forestry Training Institute, Tubmanburg and Nimba County Community College, Nimba. The course, adapted from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) Mongolia field course and Fauna & Flora International (FFI) Cambodia Conservation biology programme is a combination of class and field work including topics such as ecological survey methods, field craft, basic first aid, data analysis, project planning and report writing. Students also take up group research projects with field research component. Although lectures are imparted by external trainers, Liberian academic instructors have been trained to conduct practical field training.  The training programme has been supported by scientists and lecturers from international institutions such as FFI, BirdLife International, University of Cambridge, University of Cape Town and the A. P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute.
An SCC field exercise in Liberia. Photo credit: SCC
The Centre is overseen by a Steering Committee, made up of the partner institutions, Liberia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) and the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia (EPAL). Other institutions such as the Ministry of Agriculture, USAID, UNDP and the Society for the Conservation of Nature (SCNL), a Liberian NGO serve as observers on the committee. The Centre is expected to promote collaborative research between Liberian and international academic institutions, while generating baseline information on Liberia’s rich and unique biological diversity. An internship for SCC trainees to learn on the job working with international conservation NGOs is turning out to be a big draw for those aspiring for conservation careers in the real-world.

Mary Molokwu is the Program Manager at the Sapo Conservation Center and the Technical Advisor Education & Outreach at Fauna and Flora International (FFI), Liberia.