By Chaz Kyser
Transboundary agreements between Guinea and Liberia to better protect and manage their shared forests and wildlife proved beneficial for two forest elephants that decided they didn’t need visas or face masks to travel between the two West African countries.
The elephants, “threatened with extinction” according to the Convention on the Illegal Trade in Endangered Species, crossed from Guinea to Liberia in early September, causing damage to communities and crops along the way. This type of wildlife-human contact often ends with the killing of the elephants, in this case not for their ivory but out of concern for life and property. However, the 2019 transboundary agreements between Guinea and Liberia, which WA BiCC and its grantees helped facilitate, resulted in a different storyline this time. Transboundary initiatives such as this were established to sensitize people living near forests about protecting wildlife and to enable partnerships and dialogue between government agencies tasked with protecting both forests and animals.
As a result, community members didn’t try to hurt the elephants even as their property was being damaged when the animals passed through. Equally notable, after being alerted that the elephants had crossed the border, forest rangers in Guinea with support from their ministry informed their Liberian counterparts. Together, park rangers on both sides of the border quickly mobilized to track the elephants, keep them from harm, and steer them back into the forest. WA BiCC’s Forestry and Landscape Coordinator also stepped in to help direct efforts. The elephants are now safe in Liberia and being closely monitored. They also gained a bit of notoriety as the incident quickly garnered widespread attention in Liberia and the story was picked up by local media.
Kudos to the governments and people of Guinea and Liberia for helping the animals migrate safely across their natural home range, which in this case spans international borders. As WA BiCC is working with various West African governments and partners to create “corridors,” or safe passages, between forests for wildlife, the elephants’ trip proves there is a definite need to enable transboundary movement of animals across the region. But hopefully, this particular pair of elephants will want to stay put in the forest for a while!